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Fear is nothing new

For recipients of DACA, deadline a constant reminder their days in US are numbered

Activists+gather+at+the+Capitol+Building+to+protest+the+lack+of+action+regarding+the+DREAM+Act.
Activists gather at the Capitol Building to protest the lack of action regarding the DREAM Act.

Activists gather at the Capitol Building to protest the lack of action regarding the DREAM Act.

COURTESY OF BRENDA RODRIGUEZ

COURTESY OF BRENDA RODRIGUEZ

Activists gather at the Capitol Building to protest the lack of action regarding the DREAM Act.

Rebecca White, Evergreen assistant news editor

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WSU student Brenda Rodriguez has lived every day since Sept. 5 with a countdown. Rodriguez is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipient. As of Tuesday, she has 476 days until her permit expires.

“[It’s] an automatic countdown I have in my head,” she said. “Those are the only days that I know I have security to work and be with my family, to be protected from deportation. After that, I guess I’m up for grabs.”

In September, President Donald Trump announced he would rescind the Obama-era DACA program, which protects undocumented people, like Rodriguez, from deportation and allows them to legally work in the U.S.

Rodriguez is a member of a WSU undocumented student club, the Crimson Group, and is one of four members who has traveled to Washington D.C. to advocate for an unedited version of the DREAM Act, a bill that would offer a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
Rodriguez, who crossed the border to reunite with her parents at the age of 9, said the bill has been in her mind since she arrived.

While in D.C., she protested in senators’ offices, capital campus buildings and tunnels. Rodriguez still has hope that Congress will vote on a solution before Trump’s March deadline, despite its lack of action regarding the DREAM Act in December. A version of the bill has been proposed every year since 2001.

“Even if it doesn’t pass within the next couple of weeks, we’re not just going to wait until March,” she said. “We’re going to keep creating visibility and pressure until we hit the objective, whether that’s March or whether that’s before … it’s a priority in our community.”

She said the Crimson Group has worked on pressuring specific Democrats and moderate Republicans into withholding their votes from a budget bill unless it includes the DREAM Act. Trump has said he would support the DREAM Act if it included certain provisions, like funding for a border wall and increased enforcement and detention.

Paul Quinonez Figueroa, the political director for the Washington DREAM Coalition, the organization the Crimson Group worked with in D.C., said tax reform and other large legislative issues distracted Congress. Republicans can now shift their focus on a spending bill, which could affect protections for undocumented people.

If the Senate Democrats withhold their votes on a budget until the DREAM Act is passed, Figueroa believes the bill has a chance.

“We believe it’ll get done,” he said, “especially now that we’re getting really close to the March deadline that was set by President Trump himself.”

Rodriguez and Crimson Group members Celeste Estrada and Maria Yepez, who traveled to D.C. in November, all focused on sit-ins and marches during their time in D.C. Figueroa met with congressional leaders, like Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, to convince them to withhold their vote from the spending bill, while members of other groups engaging in civil disobedience were arrested.

Rodriguez said a common reason she heard from Democrats who voted for the spending package was that it’s not the right political climate for immigration reform, due to Republican control of both Congress and the White House.

Kate Evans, a University of Idaho immigration law professor, said that since the Obama administration, immigration enforcement has changed. Now anyone undocumented is a target for deportation, not just immigrants with criminal records. Because of that, she said, students losing their DACA protections are more vulnerable than ever.

“Now it’s very clear,” she said. “Anybody who’s here with any kind of violation — regardless of who you are, regardless of how long you’ve been here — is an explicit target. I think the ramifications of that change are dramatic.”

Evans also leads a UI law school immigration clinic, which works with WSU to offer undocumented students legal advice.

She said many students were left without a clear option when Trump rescinded DACA. They had only 30 days to renew, and only permits that would expire within the next six months were accepted. She said the students whose permit expired March 6, the day after Trump’s deadline, were out of luck.

Of the possible legislative solutions in Congress, she said the DREAM Act offers the most for immigrants by loosening the age restrictions and cut-off dates, and moving away from temporary permits.

“If you’re a 22-year-old looking at schools, looking at a family, looking at building your life” Evans said, “making those decisions in two-year stints with the hope that you’ll somehow be able to keep staying … has got to have some long-term effects.”

The legal advice the immigration clinic offers to local students is one of a few Crimson Group demands toward which WSU is working. Lucila Loera, assistant vice president of the Division of Student Affairs, said the university didn’t have any specific changes or plans to support undocumented students yet, beyond the free legal advice, but they did plan to make students more aware of the resources and training already available at the university.

“We want to support all our students and recognize this is a hard time, especially for students who are undocumented,” Loera said. “There is a lot happening nationally that impacts their experience here, and we want to make sure they can have the best experience that they can.”

Rodriguez, a first-generation student, said that if the DREAM Act isn’t passed, she’ll be vulnerable to deportation. She won’t be able to use her degree, and may not achieve her dream of becoming a women’s studies professor.

While she and other members of the Crimson Group might not be able to return to Washington D.C. before the vote, she said she feels obligated to use her remaining 476 days of DACA protection to speak out on behalf of herself and the undocumented immigrants who were never eligible for those safeguards.

“I have always lived with the fear of being deported,” she said. “Being fearful — there’s nothing new in that.”

This story has been updated from its original version

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