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Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) Sits Down for Dreamer Dinner With Florida DACA Recipients

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In a touching and emotional lunch over pizza on Friday, Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) met with six Dreamers and DACA recipients to talk about what DACA has meant to them and the future of the program.

Rep. Soto met with Mariana Castro, Claudia Jimenez, Karen Caudillo, and Ivan Vasquez — all university students in Florida — as well as community organizer Eli Garcia and immigration advocate Mariana Ordaz. The Dreamers shared their stories with him — “we laughed, we cried,” said Mariana — and the Congressman made clear that they had his support.

“As a United States Congressman,” Rep. Soto said at one point, after the Dreamers spoke about how they sometimes felt as if they didn’t belong anywhere, “I’m here to tell you that you are American and that this is your country.”

The Dreamers as well as Rep. Soto noted how powerful it was, even for those who well understand the value of DACA in the abstract, to talk and hear about real stories from students who had grown up in the area and gone to local high schools. Karen, who grew up in Naples, Florida and has been in the US since she was four, spoke about how she didn’t even know she was undocumented growing up until she tried getting a driver’s license. That moment changed her, as she realized her life would have a lot more obstacles than the lives of her peers.

Mariana spoke about how she came from Peru at age 10 with only her mother, having had to leave her father and two brothers behind. Her mother, unable to work legally, had to pursue a series of short-term jobs, causing Mariana to move and switch schools nine times between fifth grade and her senior year of high school. At one middle school, an office administrator (illegally) told Mariana that she couldn’t enroll: “you have to go back to your country.”

Mariana persisted, and completed an International Baccalaureate (IB) program in high school, where she served 400 hours of community service. She earned a scholarship with the Florida Bright Futures program, but couldn’t access it due to her undocumented status. At the University of Florida, she fought for in-state tuition equality, almost completely taking off a year to do so. She is now a senior pursuing a neurobiology major with a minor in Latin America Studies.

For her, the end of DACA would force her to leave college. As Mariana said:

Ending DACA would mean I wouldn’t be able to graduate, because I wouldn’t be able to afford tuition. And not just me…hundreds of thousands of lives would just stop. We wouldn’t be able to drive, or work, or lives our lives. Every single cent that has been sent to the University of Florida is money I’ve worked for. Without DACA, I would have to leave right in the middle of my senior year.

Congressman Soto, for his part, encouraged the Dreamers to continue fighting and speaking out, though safety and the risks of being a face for the movement were also a theme of the lunch. He spoke about possible legislation that would forbid using federal funds to deport Dreamers, as well as Rep. Luis Gutierrez’s (D-IL) American Hope Act. Everyone at the lunch agreed that if DACA is rescinded, Congress must act.

Dreamers and advocates are holding their breath this week in the wake of news that DACA may be rescinded in the next few days. DACA is a program which has helped almost 800,000 young immigrants over five years by allowing them to work in the country legally and live without fear of deportation. Without DACA, Dreamers all over the country will lose the massive ground they have gained since the program was put in place, and face deportation from the only home they’ve ever known. Our Dreamer Dinner series are intended to help spread the word about DACA, explain why it’s crucial, and build up support for Dreamers. Help us by hosting your own Dreamer Dinner today.

View photos from Friday’s Dreamer lunch: