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“DACA Meant That I Had a Future Worth Fighting For”. Momentum Growing Behind Push to Protect DREAMers

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The fight to protect the futures and opportunities of DREAMers and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program continues to gather momentum.

Yesterday, news emerged that Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (SC) is preparing legislation to address DREAMers’ status should President Trump repeal DACA on day one of his presidency, as he has pledged. SaidGraham, “The worst outcome is to repeal the legal status that these kids have … It’s going to be basically, if you have legal status, you’ll continue legal status.”

Meanwhile, in daily Senate floor speeches, immigration reform champion Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) continues to describe the lives of individual DREAMers and remind listeners that revoking their DACA-related work permits and protection from deportation would not only upend the lives of these individuals but would negatively affect the communities and country that benefit from their contributions.

Below, we present the details of Senator Durbin’s latest DREAMer floor speech; excerpt a new Univision op-ed from Senator Durbin and a powerful Boston Globe editorial on DREAMers and DACA; and highlight new examples of colleges and college leaders stepping up on behalf of DREAMer students.

Senator Durbin’s latest DACA floor speech shares the story of Asael Reyes (details from Senator Durbin’s office):

“Asael Reyes was a 5-year-old boy when his family brought him to the United States from Mexico. Asael grew up on the North Side of Chicago. Asael was a bright child, but when he learned that he was undocumented his life took a downturn. Asael was failing his classes and he dropped out of high school for six months.  Asael said, ‘I felt that because of my status, I had no future. As a result, my grades and attendance plummeted and I struggled to do anything productive.’

But then, in 2012, President Obama announced DACA, and everything changed for Asael.  Here is how Asael explained it:  ‘DACA meant that I had a future worth fighting for, and because of that I returned to school and reignited my passion for studying. Because of DACA, I want to do whatever I can to contribute to my country.’ In his senior year in high school, Asael turned his life around. He improved his grades and was very active in his community. He was head of his school’s fundraising committee and he volunteered with a mentoring program. He also worked full-time to support himself and his family.

Today, Asael is in his sophomore year in the Honors College at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is a double major in psychology and political science, and he has a perfect 4.0 grade point average. He is involved with student government and is a leader in a recreational bike club called College of Cycling. Every week he delivers food from the college dining halls on bike to a local homeless shelter. This effort has inspired other student groups to start similar initiatives to help the homeless. He also mentors middle-school students and he is the youngest board member of the Erie Neighborhood House, a social service agency that provides assistance to low-income families in Chicago. In addition to all of this, Asael works part-time as a security guard at local events like Cubs baseball games and Bears football games. Asael dreams of working in Chicago’s city government. He says, ‘I have a passion for my city, and I feel an obligation to do whatever I can to make it great by serving its communities.’

DACA gave Asael the hope he needed to turn his life around. And now he wants to give back to the city – and the country – that he loves.  But if DACA is eliminated, Asael will lose his hope and his legal status and he could be deported back to Mexico, a country where he hasn’t lived since she was 5 years old.”

Senator Durbin also writes a new Univision op-ed, titled “I Will Do Everything In My Power To Protect the DREAMers,”:

“Preserving DACA not only does right by DREAMers, it’s in the best interest of the United States. We have invested in DREAMers’ education, and we stand to benefit when these talented young people become teachers, doctors, and business owners. Deferred action also helps ensure that our limited homeland security resources are spent pursuing individuals who pose a real threat to national security and public safety, not promising young immigrants who have voluntarily come forward, paid a fee, and passed a criminal background check. I hope and pray that the next Administration will realize this and continue protections for DREAMers.

…Our leaders cannot play politics with the lives of these young people—it would be an absolute tragedy to deport them to countries they no longer remember, where they may not even speak the language. I will work to make sure that never happens, and I will fight to ensure that everyone who calls America home is treated with dignity and respect.”

new Boston Globe editorial, titled “Keeping the DREAM Alive,” explains:

“While campaigning, Trump said he’d end the DACA policy. It is unclear, however, what he will actually do now. In a short video detailing his policy plan for the first 100 days of his administration, Trump didn’t address a DACA rollback. But because these young immigrants officially declared their illegal status to the government when applying for DACA, a Trump administration may very well go after them for deportation.

…Many polls have shown wide public support for DACA and allowing Dreamers to stay. A new survey shows 58 percent of voters nationwide are against Trump repealing DACA. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is reportedly preparing legislation to protect the legal status of those in the program, although it wouldn’t be filed until next year. Major universities and colleges like MIT, Harvard, Brown, and Boston University have urged the incoming administration to protect undocumented students. Harvard has announced steps to offer them expanded resources and assistance on campus. Beyond the moral case, there is an economic imperative in allowing DACA to continue. The Center for American Progress recently issued a report estimating the cost of ending it: Over a decade, it would mean a GDP loss of at least $434 billion.

…The impending Trump presidency is exposing the true costs of failing to arrive at an immigration compromise, leaving Obama with no other tools except executive orders, which now can simply be reversed. The problem isn’t going to go away with a new era of intolerance. But the case for allowing youth like [Harvard University DACA recipient Bruno] Villegas to stay is as unequivocal and powerful as ever.”

More than 70 Catholic college leaders sign new letter urging protections for DREAMers. The letter notes, in part:

“Many of us count among our students young men and women who are undocumented, their families having fled violence and instability,” the statement from Catholic educators said. “These students have met the criteria of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, issued in 2012. We, the undersigned presidents of Catholic colleges and universities, express hope that the students in our communities who have qualified for DACA are able to continue their studies without interruption and that many more students in their situation will be welcome to contribute their talents to our campuses.”

University of California system announces new protections for undocumented students. Per the Los Angeles Times:

“The University of California announced sweeping actions Wednesday to protect its students who came into the country illegally, saying it would refuse to assist federal immigration agents, turn over confidential records without court orders or supply information for any national registry based on race, national origin or religion.

‘While we still do not know what policies and practices the incoming federal administration may adopt, given the many public pronouncements made during the presidential campaign and its aftermath, we felt it necessary to reaffirm that UC will act upon its deeply held conviction that all members of our community have the right to work, study, and live safely and without fear at all UC locations,’ UC President Janet Napolitano said in a statement.”