One of the most important and divisive issues of this last election cycle was immigration policy. Presidential candidate Donald Trump promised to secure our country’s southern border and crack down on undocumented migrants throughout the course of his campaign. Since becoming president, Trump has used his executive powers to expand the authority of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and has begun planning the construction of a wall between Mexico and the United States. Despite the significant actions he has taken, Trump has yet to act on DACA, a 2012 executive action by president Obama that Trump promised to repeal as soon as he took office.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive action gives those eligible people who arrived in the country as children the opportunity to receive a renewable two year work permit, and be exempted from deportation during that time. Hundreds of thousands have benefitted from the program, which allows them to be recognized by the government. Now, almost in its fifth year, the program’s future remains uncertain as the Trump administration decides what to do with the over 750,000 DACA recipients.
Last year, officers of UTD’s League of United Latin American Citizens interviewed two UTD students enrolled in the DACA program. Now, a year later, they sought to interview the same students once again to discuss how their lives have changed in the last year. Unfortunately, they were only able to obtain an interview from one of the students originally profiled, as Monica declined to be interviewed for personal reasons. The purpose of these interviews is to serve as an educational platform for the student body and allow undocumented students to tell their stories. Once again, the name of the student interviewed has been changed to protect their confidentiality.0
How has your life changed since our last interview?
My life has changed a lot. I have grown so much from a leadership standpoint, and also in my values. I have learned a lot about who I am, what my purpose is, why I have ended up here, and where I want to go.
I think these changes have a lot to do with a recent opportunity I had during the Winter Break. I was accepted into a program called Dreamers Without Borders in which 100 Mexican DACA students were selected to go back to Mexico, not only to connect with our culture and families, but also to build a bridge between Mexican students and undocumented students in the United States. I saw a different reality. I learned to appreciate a lot of things. If anything, I feel really privileged to be here in the United States.
In my state in Mexico I saw a lot of great things and great places I had never visited, but at the same time, I saw no improvement. Mexico looked the same way it did when I left. I was heartbroken and disappointed because I expected that my country would be moving forward, and it is not. Instead, it’s moving backwards. Today they’re considered a developing country, not a first-world country like the United States. There are a lot of problems in the government and a lot of security issues, and there is a lack of trust in government officials. If anything, the morale and pride of being Mexican is low.
Last time I was interviewed I told you I wanted to go into public accounting or banking. Today, in light of that experience, I don’t want to do either of those things. They don’t fulfill me. I’m looking for something that is going to make me happier. I’ve noticed that one of the talents that I have is the strength to relate, communicate, and really empathize with people. I find it really rewarding when I give back and change someone’s life rather than just… going into the public accounting industry and filing 10-Ks to creditors and enabling a company to invest more. I don’t find that as rewarding anymore.
Do you see yourself as an advocate in the future?
I would love to be in D.C. to advocate for every DACA student, the over 750,000 DACA recipients in America today. I want to let Congress and America know that we are educated, we speak the language, we provide to the economy, and we impact our communities positively. So why not give us a chance for residency or citizenship? Two years is not enough. Two years with a temporary work permit is not enough. Two years to not live in fear is not enough. More than ever I feel like I have become a voice for a lot of people. Because I’m not afraid to speak up.
I, like a lot of DACA students, have nothing to lose in this country. If anything, I have a lot to gain. If anything, we are being treated unjustly. I hope that one day we can have our own Emancipation Proclamation, like when the slaves were set free. I hope we can have a similar act that would set every DACA student and every immigrant free from the fear of being deported, or being discriminated against just because we don’t have papers. I believe we have fought and demonstrated evidence of our contributions to the United States.
A group of undocumented students went up to the Dean of the School of Management and told him we needed more Hispanic students, and he agreed! He agreed to give us the funds to start a scholarship program to bring more hispanic students to the School of Management and UTD. We were just a group of undocumented students, whom in a lot of cases don’t have the opportunity to be educated. In Georgia [undocumented students] are not allowed to go to college, to any university in Atlanta, Georgia. It means a lot for us to speak up and be proactive. Despite our disadvantage, we are trying to help people so they can have the opportunity to be here, the opportunity to work here, the opportunity to receive financial aid, because I have had that opportunity and I want to make sure other people have that.
You mentioned you are still a DACA student, has anything changed in regard to your immigration status since we last spoke?
Yes, I am a DACA student. I have had DACA since 2014. A lot has changed. This December will be my second time re-applying for the DACA program. Who knows if by December this program will still exist. I know there has been a lot of commotion and a lot of uncertainty in regard to what is going to happen to this program, but I know that a lot of people are advocating for us.
How are you preparing for the future?
I’m taking it step by step. I do have a plan. My plan can change, but for now, at this moment — 9:48 PM CT March 13th — my plan is to hopefully get into the Archer Fellowship program next year. I want to work for an advocacy group for immigrants. I want to use that experience to go into the public sector in the future and be able to create projects in developing countries, like Mexico, and create higher education and healthcare programs. I would be fine doing anything that is in public service. That is my plan right now. The steps I am taking to get there are 1) being really patient and 2) not giving up hope. And while I am working toward achieving my dream I am going to learn about education, and appreciate how education has changed my life. Hopefully along the way I’ll be able to keep networking to find mentors to help me along the way.
How do you feel about the president’s order to expand deportations?
So I know that Trump has an agenda. During his campaign he said he would deport illegal immigrants that were here and “bad hombres”. It’s unfortunate that he is president and he has to follow through with that promise, because people voted for him for those reasons. It’s sad to me that they’re going to deport many immigrants who don’t deserve to be deported. To be honest, I’m not scared. I have had conversations with my parents and my uncles and they told me that if they are ever deported that I should keep going. It would mean more to them if I keep going than if I stop and try to help them because there’s not much that I can do right now. I don’t have the means, or the power, or the rights, yet, to be fighting for my parents.
If we’re really going to protect ourselves everybody needs to be informed about their rights. We cannot be afraid about what is going to happen. Even if he is threatening us, we shouldn’t stop our lives because of this man. I think we should keep doing what is right. If you are treated unjustly or unfairly, there will be justice and people will fight for you. For example, the girl from Argentina who was about to get deported. She was treated unfairly and people fought for her so she was able to stay.
I think right now with our community, more than ever, we have to change the dialogue. I’m tired of my community, my Hispanic community, victimizing ourselves. We’re not victims. We have a voice. We have power. As a community, we are really strong. We are fighting to stay here, but do not be afraid to go back if you have to. The Mexican government is trying to help migrants that are being sent back. Maybe they aren’t prepared to take everybody back, but they are doing certain things to alleviate the trauma of deportation.
Is there anything you would like to say to the UTD student body and our community?
To any DACA student or immigrant at UTD, I would advise them to not be afraid. There is no need to hide. They already know who we are and where we are. Now, more than ever, it’s time to show them that we are real people and that we have a real impact not only on our families but in the student body at this university. Know that there are many people in our community willing to fight for us. If it got to the point where mass deportations were being implemented we will do what it takes to protect you. President Benson is in support of protecting DACA students and every immigrant at this school. At the same time, we must behave and do what is right. Do not stop fighting. Do not stop moving forward. Do not stop dreaming, because we are the dreamers! And we are the best immigrant group the United States has today.
On another note, I am really disappointed in the Hispanic media. They are trying to keep us afraid and creating a lot of terror in our community. They are focusing on specific circumstances where one Hispanic person happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and they got deported. They’re generalizing these circumstances and creating a lot of fear in the community. It’s counterintuitive. It’s hurting us. I’m really disappointed in them, especially Univision because that is all they talk about. Fear! Fear! Fear! Fear! All day. We’re not going to win with fear. I’m just sick and tired of people seeing the news and only being discouraged. It really saddens me. If we are only receiving negative messages, our outlook is going to remain negative. It’s sad too because in Mexico they are seeing the same thing. A lot of well-educated Mexicans don’t want to look for jobs in the United States because they fear that they will be discriminated against. I try to tell those people that if anything, they should be coming here to prove those people wrong! Both countries need each other. The United States needs Mexico and Mexico needs the United States.
Why do you think the Hispanic media is pursuing that narrative?
I feel like they’re just trying to bring in ratings or hook people into reading their stories. I’ve talked to people in the media, and every time they’ve asked me [if] I’m afraid, I’ve always flipped it around on them and said no. I’m not scared. If anything, I’m more courageous right now. I want to face [Trump] and let him know that we’re here to push this country forward, not to be criminals, rapists, or anything like that. During my trip to Mexico [the media] kept pushing us to talk about our negative outlook toward our situation. I think my group did a great job at responding their questions, although at the beginning it was pretty rough. Everyone kept saying “Not my President! Not my President!”, “I hate him”, or “I’m scared!” But then we realized that we were not in the program to scare people. We were there to inspire people and show them a different side of the story. We have to change the dialogue, and it has to start at the top. Hispanic leaders need to start spreading a message of hope. We need to let people know that they are valuable and that they matter.