UW-Whitewater freshman Nayeli Govantes-Alcantar seems to have a bright future ahead of her. But, she’s one of many college students across the country who could face deportation.
Originally from Mexico, her family moved to Janesville, Wisconsin when she was just two years old. Her family immigrated to the U.S. for a better education and an improved lifestyle.
Govantes-Alcantar is protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), giving her temporary protection to live in the U.S.
“DACA Dreamers are here for the American Dream just like everyone else,” she said.
DACA protects individuals, known as “Dreamers”, who were brought to the U.S. as children illegally and provides them temporary protection from being deported. The program allows them to get a driver’s license, have a work permit, and go to college, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The majority of applicants are from Mexico but others originate from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, and Brazil. Applicants must apply to the program every two years for a $495 fee, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, eligibility for DACA is as follows:
- are under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012;
- came to the U.S. while under the age of 16;
- have continuously resided in the U.S. from June 15, 2007 to the present. entered the U.S. without inspection or fell out of lawful visa status before June 15, 2012;
- were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making the request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
- are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or armed forces;
- have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors of any kind; and
- do not pose a threat to national security or public safety.
DACA was brought to life in August 2012 by former President Obama. The term “Dreamers” came from Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, (Dream) Act, that exchanged legal status for joining the military or going to college, according to the American Immigration Council.
Overall, it’s estimated that nearly 800,000 people received DACA benefits, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
This was until DACA came to a screeching halt on Sept. 5, 2017 after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced an end to the program. President Trump gave Congress six months to decide its fate.
No new DACA applications accepted were accepted after the announcement, but applications that were renewed will be honored for their duration, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Govantes-Alcantar is one of thousands of DACA college students across the country with an uncertain future. As of 2014, an estimated 241,000 DACA-eligible students enrolled in college, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
To raise awareness for dreamers on UW-Whitewater campus, a student organization called Dreamers Scholars and Colleagues (DSC) was formed in 2012. Govantes-Alcantar is the DSC secretary.
Besides raising awareness, DSC raises money for the Dream Fund, a scholarship for Dreamers on campus.
DACA students have to pay out-of-state tuition, said Govantes-Alcantar. “Even though I’ve worked just as hard as my colleagues and lived here just as long,” she said.
She said a lot of immigrants leave because where they lived was not safe. A lot of Dreamers grew up in the U.S. and don’t remember the country they came from, Govantes-Alcantar said.
If DACA is discontinued recipients could start losing its protection starting in March 2018, and they could lose it completely by March 2020, according to Migration Policy Institute.
“I have a positive outlook on it still,” Govantes-Alcantar said. “I feel like my country will eventually pull through and find a way to make it better.”
Daniela Porras was just nine months old when her parents brought her to the U.S. She comes from a rural area in Mexico, and her parents moved to seek out better education and work opportunities.
Porras is a UW-Whitewater junior and the vice president of DSC. She joined DSC to help other DACA students not to feel hopeless like she did, she said.
Porras said there were no opportunities where they lived in Mexico. Her father didn’t go to school and her mother only finished sixth grade.
She said she was “scrutinized” when applying to DACA. “I’ve already proved myself, and it’s going to be taken away,” she said.
The uncertainty of DACA makes Porras feel “suffocated” by a law that dictates so much of her life, she said.
Porras plans on becoming a teacher, but if DACA is discontinued she won’t have a work permit to be able to use her degree. Nevertheless, she still plans on getting her degree because the education and knowledge she gained can’t be taken away from her, she said.
Another fear for Porras is if she or her parents get deported, her brother would be on his own. Her brother was born in the U.S. and has autism. He can’t take care of himself and Porras said Mexico doesn’t have a good understanding of taking care of those with special needs.
Porras doesn’t live the average college life and has to be “perfect”, she said. If she gets in trouble it could affect her family.
She said she’s felt support on campus this semester and felt comfortable in her art class where her professor encouraged her art that is so intertwined with DACA and Mexican culture.
She said she’s felt hate from others’ who feel like DACA Dreamers are taking American jobs.
“This is a place we grew to love. Why would we want to hurt a place like this?,” she said.
Elimination of DACA would force people back into the shadows and would result in working under the table in poor conditions, she said. DACA already exposed so many undocumented citizens, and the withdrawl of DACA could make them a bigger target to be deported, she said.
Miranda Haanen, who is a DSC marketing director and UW-Whitewater senior, said she was scared and upset after hearing President Trump’s announcement.
While Haanen isn’t a DACA recipient herself, she’s passionate about those protected by DACA being able to stay in the country they were brought to as children.
“They have every right to be here like I do,” Haanen said.
DSC educates the UW-Whitewater campus on who Dreamers are and how they can help, she said. If students know about dreamers on campus they could be more “compelled” to help, Haanen said.
They’re people who contribute to society and they’re not criminals, she said. It’s a misconception that DACA recipients get benefits, Haanen said. She also said DACA recipients do, in fact, pay taxes.
People came forward after DACA was created to say they’re undocumented, Hanan said.
“I don’t think it’s fair or right to encourage these young people to come out of the shadows and then pull the rug from them,” she said.
Aidan King, UW-Whitewater College Dems financial chair, wasn’t surprised by the President’s decision and called it “alienation”.
DACA recipients have no criminal background and are people who were brought to the U.S. as children without their consent, he said. King described DACA recipients as mostly good people who’ve only ever known life in the U.S. and nowhere else.
It’s “morally abhorrent that he would attack children,” King said regarding the President’s decision to end DACA.
DACA was a good faith agreement in which people came out of the shadows to say they don’t have documents, and this agreement should have been honored, King said.
He said mistakes were made on both sides regarding immigration, but that former President Obama genuinely tried.
King said some people may have taken advantage of DACA but the majority of recipients deserve to be here.
“By coming here they prove they want to be American,” King said. He said we need an immigration system that is more “merciful”.
He hopes DACA recipients get the proper treatment they deserve and that DACA will continue.
Phil Anderson, the chair of the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin, said Libertarians are in favor of open borders, but it was a constitutional overreach by President Obama to create DACA. Congress should decide on immigration policy, not the President via executive orders, Anderson said.
Andrea Checkai, the chapter president for Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) on campus, also believes DACA was done unconstitutionally.
Checkai said YAL is often linked to Libertarian spectrum, but the organization doesn’t affiliate themselves with any political party.
She said Congress should have decided on DACA in the beginning, but that no longer matters because so many people were brought here as children and this is the only country they know. “How dare you send them to someplace they don’t know,” she said.
She said the parents of the Dreamers, who immigrated here, are brave and their kids grew up here with opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have. It’d be wrong to offer those opportunities just to take them away, she said.
There should be an easier path to citizenship, she said. “On a humanitarian level, and as an American you have to help each other out.”
She said it’s okay to end DACA if there’s a plan to keep the Dreamers from being deported.
Checkai said Democrats and Republicans care more about promoting their agendas than the average American. She said the current administration is trying to get back to constitutionality but it’s failing with DACA.
“I don’t want to see the President fail, but I also want to see the people stand up when there is injustice,” she said.
UW-Whitewater Chancellor Beverly Kopper showed support for DACA students in a statement
regarding DACA on Sept. 6: “DACA has provided positive benefits and opportunities for many amazing students at UW-Whitewater to pursue their higher education goals and we will continue to support them.As Warhawks, we believe in the value and dignity of all individuals. Through the cultivation of an accessible, inclusive, and equitable campus community, each individual has the opportunity to pursue their passions and participate in an intellectually stimulating, safe and respectful environment. This includes the free exchange of ideas, opinions and beliefs in a civil and respectful manner,” she said.
Some don’t agree with DACA
On the other hand, some think the President’s decision was the right one. Eric Medina is the chair of public relations for UW-Whitewater College Republicans, and he believes DACA has to go.
DACA was created unconstitutionally, Medina said. It’s “clear abuse of his power in the executive branch.”
He said it’s important to look at in a nonpartisan way when so many people are affected, but that it can sometimes be difficult. Medina said DACA had good intentions, but illegal immigration is illegal for a reason.
“It’s unfortunate that it has to go because it was helping out these students,” he said.
Medina said we should fix the immigration issue in this country before a solution, like DACA, is offered. He doesn’t want a program that will encourage illegal immigration. DACA could encourage people to bring their children as minors to the U.S. to take advantage of the program, he said.
It’s one of President Trump’s better decisions, he said. However, Medina believes that because Trump’s name is attached to it, people won’t give him the credit he deserves.
Medina wants the U.S. to enforce immigration policies before amnesty is given. He said the Republicans have goals and the President is taking steps to achieve those goals.
Medina said a lot of people have the wrong idea about the DACA decision. “The biggest misconception is that this comes from a place of hate, discrimination, or racism,” he said.
For Medina, being a Republican hasn’t been easy since Trump entered the presidential race. Plus, he said that being both a hispanic and a Republican is “weird” to people.
The most challenging part for him was the 2016 election when he was working for the Republican Party of Wisconsin at the time. He visited different towns in Walworth County to speak to potential voters, and after some people found out he was a Republican, he was called a “racist” and a “bigot”, Medina said.
He said unfortunately the Republican Party gets labeled in a negative way.
Why did President Trump make this decision?
One of the biggest promises of Trump’s campaign was immigration reform. On the campaign trail he said he would “immediately terminate DACA”, according to The Washington Post.
Trump said the Obama-era program was “illegal amnesty” and called it unconstitutional, according to Fox News.
“I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognize that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws,” Trump said, according to NPR.
However, on the day DACA was announced to come to an end, Trump wrote on his Twitter account that if congress doesn’t legalize DACA, within their six month time window, then he will “revisit” the issue.
Was DACA done unconstitutionally?
DACA was put forward by Obama via executive order. According to Mirriam-Webster, an executive order is an order that comes from the U.S. President or a government agency and must be obeyed like a law.
There has been debate whether Obama’s executive order was done constititionally. According to Politifact, the constitutionality of DACA has not been determined by the courts.
What will happen to the Dreamers?
DACA wasn’t meant to be a path towards citizenship, but will there be a new solution for the Dreamers?
Sens. Thom Tillis, James Lankford, and Orrin Hatch, introduced the Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers, Employment, Education and Defending our Nation (SUCCEED) Act on Sept. 25, 2017, according to National Immigration Reform.
The Republican-backed SUCCEED Act has a longer path to permanent status. Dreamers could become legal permanent residents after they complete 10 years as conditional permanent residents.
The bill includes a 15-year process that would allow young undocumented immigrants to earn the ability to be protected from deportation, legally work in the U.S., travel outside the country, and become permanent residents, according to National Immigration Reform.
Another potential solution could be the Recognizing America’s Children Act introduced by Rep. Carlos Curbelo in March 2017. The bill would include three pathways toward legalization: higher education, service in the armed forces or work authorization, according to NPR.
Dreamers can apply for a five-year conditional status and then reapply for a five-year permanent status. At the end of their permanent status, they could apply for U.S. citizenship, according to NPR.
There is no resolution and the future for the Dreamers is still uncertain. The clock is ticking for Congress’ decision, and only time will reveal the fate of the dreamers.