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AZ, CT, and IL Immigrant Youth Stories Make Powerful Case for DACA

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Immigrant youth across the country are speaking out and sharing their stories about how DACA has changed their lives and benefited their communities.

Just as the courage and personal stories of immigrant youth led to the establishment of the DACA program in 2012, their stories about the benefits of DACA, and their courageous organizing in defense of the program offer a powerful argument for why President Trump should keep DACA in place until a permanent legislative solution can be enacted.

Below, we highlight excerpts of recent media coverage in Arizona, Connecticut, and Illinois featuring immigrant youth:

In Arizona, a Phoenix New Times story by Joseph Flaherty, “Ending a Dream: Do We Really Want to Deport These Undocumented Youths?” describes how AZ immigrant youth and their allies are organizing in the face of new threats to DACA and their futures:

‘If they end DACA, we are going to be targets for deportation, long story short. That’s the reality of it. And that’s why it’s so important for us to put pressure,’ [Arizona Dream Act Coalition president Karina] Ruiz de Diaz told the group. ‘The government needs to understand that it’s not responsible for them to end DACA before they have a permanent solution.’

…James Garcia, the director of communications and public policy at the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber supports DACA and the proposed Dream Act legislation. He told New Times that ‘muddled, contradictory’ messages from Washington have all-too-real effects on young people working or studying in Arizona. ‘It is difficult enough for these young people to plan a future as a DACA recipient. That’s hard enough,’ Garcia said. ‘To plan with contradictory and even mean-spirited messages coming out of Washington and the Trump administration is nothing short of cruel. I can’t even begin to imagine what’s going through the mind of someone who has DACA, who’s making a living or running a business, when they hear what’s coming out of Washington right now.’

The contradictory messages have had an impact on Raul Tapia Martinez, 18, an intern at the Arizona Dream Act Coalition. He’s undocumented, and has been working with the organization this summer as a part of a service scholarship from Arizona State University. ‘There’s quite a bit of confusion,’ he said of the limbo status of DACA. ‘People often ask, and we try to educate them and teach them. And with this new introduction of the Dream Act, I’m sure there’s going to be more confusion.’

In Connecticut, the New Haven Independent’s Jon Greenberg recaps a recent meeting between CT immigrant youth and lawmakers such as Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).

Erika Vergara, a DACA recipient who works for Apostle Immigrant Services, a not-for-profit that helps immigrants Greater New Haven achieve citizenship, legal residence and work authorization, said DACA gave her employment opportunities and allows her to use her college degree to pursue her passion of helping the immigrant community.

She said DACA also allowed her to obtain a driver’s license. ‘When I got my driver’s license, I cried, because it was a document, legible to the state, with my picture and my date of birth,” Vergara said. ‘Getting my social security was also important because now I actually have rights, whereas before I … could have been thrown away.’

A man named Jose who spoke on Friday said he was able to open two businesses because of DACA. He noted that it’s impossible to get many jobs and internships ‘without a certain level of documentation.’ Jose called it ironic that many of the people that come into his businesses have cars decorated with Trump stickers.

‘Little do they know that we’re part of their community already, that we’re the parents at their kids’ schools and that we interact regularly,’ he said of these Trump supporters. ‘I think one of the problems is they can’t put a face to the issue.’

Isaac Montilla, who also spoke Friday, said he had to wait two years after graduating high school in 2007 to go to college because of his undocumented status. One of Friday’s speakers, Alejandra Ortega, is a rising junior at Yale University who is undocumented person but not a recipient of DACA. She came to the U.S. in 2007, the cutoff for DACA eligibility. She reminded the officials present that in order to protect people like her and her parents, they have to push for legislation that reaches beyond the scope of DACA.”

In Illinois, Chicago’s NBC affiliate covers a press event featuring IL DACA recipients and longtime Dream Act champion Senator Dick Durbin:

If a certain federal program goes away, undocumented law student Karen Villa Gomez may not be able to fulfill her dream of becoming a lawyer in the U.S. ‘It feels like it’s a betrayal from the country that we grew up in,’ she said. ‘I was two years old I’ve been here my entire life. To not to be able to pursue my goals I have been following the past my entire life.’

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin stood in support of Villa Gomez, and others like her–who came to the U.S. illegally as children, but have found support through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act–which protects nearly 800-thousand undocumented immigrants.

…Undocumented medical student Cesar Montelongo had been one of several DACA beneficiaries who met with Durbin Monday. ‘I am not sure I will be able to complete my program because if DACA goes away that means I can’t really reside in this country anymore,’ Montelongo said.

Like Villa Gomez, Montelongo fears that his dream of becoming doctor will end if the government terminates DACA. ‘If this goes away I have to do my best to keep going on to see what I can next,’ Montelongo said. ‘Growing up you realize nothing is assured, you just have to keep fighting every step of the way.’