As the U.S. Senate turned down plans Thursday night to spare America’s 800,000 “Dreamer” immigrants from deportation, the Modesto Junior College Civic Engagement Project simultaneously hosted a panel discussion at its campus, sharing what’s next for undocumented students.
The MJC CEP treated the community to a screening of the short documentary “The Dream is Now,” which follows four Dreamers and their individual fights for citizenship. One of the students featured in the film had dreams of enlisting in the U.S. Army but couldn’t because of his undocumented status, while another showed off her Summa Cum Laude medal, unsure if she would be able to afford graduate school because of rising tuition rates for students here illegally.
Ariana Gonzales, an MJC counselor and UndocuAlly coordinator, and Solange Altman, attorney coordinator of immigration services at El Concilio, were both on hand for a panel discussion after the film that also included representatives from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, MEChA, Congregations Building Community, Catholic Charities and Eddie Mendoza, a representative from Congressman Jeff Denham’s office.
As the group of panelists shared their thoughts about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and President Donald Trump’s decision to anull it, the U.S. Senate voted on the same night to defeat four separate proposals, which would have allowed young, undocumented people citizenship.
Dreamers are immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, and now risk deportation because they lack permanent authorization to stay. The Obama-era DACA program previously gave them the ability to live and work in the country for two-year periods that can be renewed, and after rescinding the program, Trump gave U.S. Congress until March 5 to replace it.
At the MJC event, however, Altman explained that the March 5 deadline isn’t as it seems, thanks to two court orders.
“DACA does not end on March 5,” said Altman. “Until the Trump administration can come up with a good reason to end the program, it continues.”
A federal judge in New York ruled Tuesday that the government must restart DACA. Judge Nicholas G. Graraufis said the administration does have the ability to revoke the program, but it must also give a sound reason for doing so.
“If you’re going to end a program under Administrative Procedure Act, you have to give legitimate reasons for ending the program,” said Altman. “Based on this decision, it looks like people will be able to continue to file new, initial applications for DACA.”
As the panel discussion at MJC took place, Altman shared the news with those in attendance that the Senate was unable to pass a DACA replacement. The four proposals denied by the Senate included a bill that would provide citizenship for DACA recipients but in turn called for $25 billion in border security in wall funding, limits on family-based migration and elimination of the diversity visa lottery.
Another bill, co-authored by Sen. John McCain, would have provided eventual citizenship for Dreamers and money for a study on border security needs, but no border wall funding. A third plan would have appropriated $2.7 billion in border security improvements, eliminate the diversity lottery program and target the chain migration system, and the fourth rejected proposal, the DREAM Act, was the latest version of the bill which would have ensured the protections that Obama created for young immigrants.
In spite of these setbacks, Altman explained that the two court orders that are currently keeping DACA afloat will soon reach the U.S. Supreme Court, which will decide whether the decision to end the program is unconstitutional or not.
“It doesn’t matter what Ann Coulter says, it doesn’t matter what Glenn Beck says, or Rush Limbaugh — it’s what those nine justices say that really matters, and so we need to wait for them to weigh in,” said Altman. “There’s always misinformation. You have to really be monitoring this stuff to know what’s going on…we have these two decisions saying it’s not cancelled.
“There are people in Congress who are fighting for you to try and make a difference.”
MJC has a plethora of resources for those looking to renew their DACA status or who may have questions about the program, like the MJC Dream Network and an entire page on their student services website dedicated to helping students apply for the program.
An undocumented student who spoke during the panel hoped for a resolution.
“We’ve been fighting in the shadows for so long by ourselves. I think it’s time for our allies to step up and use the privilege that they have,” she said. “People don’t think of all the ways that they are much more free than us…I’m tired of my community dragging itself half alive, dreading that we are all alone. But we’re not.”