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“An Opportunity to Give Back to this Country That Has Given Me So Much”

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50 Days Out from Day One of Trump Presidency, More Reminders Why DACA Program for DREAMers Benefits America

In a spate of Senate floor speeches, longtime immigration reform champion Senator Dick Durbin has been describing the lives of individual DREAMers and reminding listeners that revoking their DACA-related work permits and protection from deportation would not only upend the lives of individual DREAMers but negatively affect the communities and country that benefit from their contributions.

This morning Senator Durbin took to the Senate floor to lift up the story of yet another DREAMer.  With 50 days until Day One of Trump’s presidency – the day he has promised to revoke DACA and subject DREAMers to deportation – it is essential for America to know the stakes and the lives hanging in the balance.

Below, we present Senator Durbin’s latest profile, followed by the latest remarks from former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano; the story of another Dreamer whose life would be in limbo if DACA is ended; a recent interview with Senator Durbin underscoring the importance of DACA; and new polling about Trump’s pledge to cancel the program on Day 1 of his presidency.

Senator Durbin’s latest floor speech tells the story of DACA recipient Valentina Garcia Gonzalez (biographical details from Senator Durbin’s office):

“When Valentina Garcia Gonzalez was only six years old, her family brought her to the United States from the South American country of Uruguay. Valentina grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia.  She was a bright child, and she learned English after only a few months of classes. Valentina said, quote:  ‘After that, I became her parents’ right hand.  Everything and anything that involved speaking to the outside world meant I was in the front, translating and representing my parents. It was a lot of responsibility for a young undocumented kid.’

In addition to this responsibility, Valentina was an excellent student. In middle school, she received the President’s Education Award twice, once from President Bush and once from President Obama.  In high school, she was an Honor Graduate and an Advanced Placement Scholar. She was also a leader in student government, and a member of the Beta Club, a national academic honors program, and Peer Leaders, where she mentored younger students.  Somehow Valentina also found time to be the president of the school’s environmental group and the manager of the varsity basketball team.

Valentina was a very accomplished student, but Georgia state law bans undocumented students from attending the state’s top public universities. As a result, Valentina applied and was accepted to Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school in Hanover, New Hampshire. Valentina is now a sophomore at Dartmouth, where she is a pre-med student majoring in neuroepidemiology. Valentina’s dream is to become a doctor and give back to her community.  To help pay her tuition, she works as a projectionist at a theater. As an undocumented student, Valentina is ineligible for any federal financial assistance. And Valentina still finds time to volunteer as a mentor for children in the local community.

In a letter to Senator Durbin, Valentina said: ‘I am beyond grateful because, by receiving DACA, the U.S. has given me an opportunity to give back to this country that has given me so much. This is my country. I have worked hard to prove myself worthy in the eyes of my American counterparts and knowing that I am in a weird limbo in regards to my legal status doesn’t make me sleep any easier.  My name is registered with the government, so I might be deported if they decide to end DACA.’”

In a New York Times op-ed titled, “The Truth About Young Immigrants and DACA,” former DHS Secretary and current University of California president Janet Napolitano explains why the DACA program is a common sense measure:

“Today, there are nearly three-quarters of a million Dreamers who no longer have to constantly fear an encounter with an immigration enforcement agent. Instead, they can live, study and work freely. Many are now studying at the system I lead, the University of California. They are the Berkeley graduate who emigrated to San Francisco at the age of 9 and is now in the system’s medical school there. They are the U.C.L.A. student who, at the age of 12, worked in construction to help support his family, an experience that led him to study urban planning and community development.

Some of the debate about the future of DACA suggests that it provides Dreamers an official immigration status or a pathway to citizenship. As the memorandum establishing the program made clear, this is not the case. Only Congress has the power to confer those rights.

Rather, the program reflects the executive branch doing what it properly does every day — making decisions about how to best use resources within the framework of existing law. There is no reason to abandon these sensible priorities now.”

In Bloomberg, Josh Eidelson highlights the story of Gabe Belmonte, an engineer in Silicon Valley: 

“Now 34, Belmonte has lived in the U.S. since he was 7. His mother brought him from Mexico on a tourist visa, and they stayed after it ran out. Unable to take out loans, he put himself through college by working in restaurants and warehouses. He graduated in 2008 with a degree in industrial engineering but couldn’t find a company willing to sponsor him for a visa. So he spent the next four years working minimum wage jobs that he could get without one. After qualifying for DACA, Belmonte was able to land work that made use of his college degree, first in tech support and then as a quality engineer … While talking to lawyers about whether there’s a route for him to get a visa, Belmonte is making plans in case he gets deported. He’s paying off his credit cards, talking to his roommate about finding someone to sublet, and arranging for his U.S.-born son to stay with his grandparents. ‘For any other purpose than paperwork, I consider myself an American,’ he says. ‘Having that peace of mind that DACA has brought—that’s going to be lost. And so you go back to being fearful.’”

In a new piece for La Opinión, Maria Peña interviews Senator Durbin, who emphasizes the need to protect DACA 2012 and the DREAMers. 

“I don’t believe there will be a miracle or magic before the 20th of January, but we will introduce legislation the next session of Congress, and we will be organizing support from legislators. Perhaps Republicans have a different approach to fix our broken immigration system than the one proposed by Democrats in the past, but we ask that at the very least we protect these young people, that we don’t put them at risk of deportation.”

New poll finds that Americans oppose a DACA repeal by a 58%-28% margin:

A poll released yesterday from Global Strategy Group found that by more than a 2:1 margin, 58%-28%, Americans oppose an effort to repeal the DACA program. The poll also found that intensity is strongly against repealing DACA, with 45% of respondents “strongly opposed” to a DACA repeal, while just 19% “strongly support” repealing DACA.