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Dreamers in limbo as Trump halts DACA program
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Luis Fernando Montejano, a Stanislaus State student and TKE Fraternity member, is one of 800,000 Dreamers affected by President Donald Trumps decision to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. - photo by Photo Contributed

Stanislaus State student Luis Fernando Montejano is just like every other Warrior on campus – he attends classes, working toward his bachelor’s degree in Political Science, is active in his fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon, and one day hopes to graduate from the university, attend law school and pursue a career in politics.

Montejano is just like every other Stanislaus State student, except he’s not. He is a Dreamer, and President Donald Trump’s decision on Tuesday to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program highlighted that fact. As other students in Montejano’s class listened to their professor’s lecture Tuesday morning, he read the news, devastated.

Since 2012, the Obama administration policy DACA had provided protection from deportation for nearly 800,000 young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, allowing them to apply for work permits, obtain a driver’s license and even receive a Social Security number. In the five years since the policy was enacted, many Dreamers, as DACA recipients are called, have gone on to study, work and start families across the country – about 220,000 in California alone. Their futures, and Montejano’s, are uncertain following Trump’s decision.

“To me, a Dreamer is someone who, despite all odds, will follow their dreams to be who they want in this country. A Dreamer is someone who will succeed when others don’t want them to,” said Montejano. “A Dreamer is someone who shows their full potential and strives in what they want to accomplish, and has the opportunity to build the dream that their parents couldn’t achieve.”

Montejano came to the United States at the age of four, pretending to be someone else’s child to escape the poverty and crime in his hometown of Michoacan, Mexico. He applied for DACA in 2014 so that he could go to college and follow his dreams of becoming involved in the political world. The opportunities provided to him through the program have been life-changing, he said.

The process was easy, he added, since he attended K-12 schools in America and had never committed a crime, but financially, the $465 it cost to apply for the program was a burden. Three months after he applied, Montejano got the news that he had been accepted as a Dreamer.

“My family and I cried from happiness,” he said, adding that he wasn’t fearful of signing up for the program. “I’m a hardworking individual with nothing but love and passion for myself and my future, so I didn’t see a problem with wanting to strive in the United States and I figured whoever was looking at my application would sympathize with me.”

In his statement regarding the repeal of DACA – Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the official announcement on camera Tuesday – Trump stated that the program’s dismantling will be a gradual process, not a “sudden phase out.” While new applications for work permits will not be accepted, all existing work permits will be honored until their date of expiration up to two full years from Tuesday. Permits will not begin to expire for another six months, said Trump, providing a window of opportunity for Congress to advance “responsible immigration reform.”

Currently, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or the DREAM Act, has bipartisan support in Congress, and would provide a direct road to U.S. citizenship for people who are either undocumented, have DACA or temporary protected status and who graduate from U.S. high schools and attend college, enter the workforce or enlist in a military program. Other bills have been introduced that target smaller populations of Dreamers, like Congressman Jeff Denham’s ENLIST Act, which aims to provide citizenship for Dreamers who enlist in the military.

Immigration reform has been at the top of Denham’s to-do list this year, and last week, he co-signed a letter addressed to Trump, urging him to keep DACA in place. Following Tuesday’s decision, Denham reiterated the need for comprehensive reform that creates a direct path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

“We should be dedicating our resources to securing our borders and deporting the violent criminals preying on our communities, not going after individuals who were brought to America as children through no fault of their own,” said Denham. “The government asked these young men and women to come out of the shadows, and they have passed background checks, opened bank accounts, gotten jobs, enrolled in our universities – all positive contributions to our society and our economy. To target them now is wrong. We have several widely-supported immigration reform bills already introduced this Congress, in both the House and the Senate, that would address a path forward for DACA recipients. We must act immediately to pass these if we’re to meet the president’s six-month deadline.”

If Congress is unable to pass legislation for Dreamers before the six-month deadline, life would change drastically for Montejano and DACA recipients around the country. The young Stanislaus State student’s goals of going to law school and passing the California bar exam, one day becoming a senator or district attorney, would never be realized. His parents risked death for him to be where he is today, he said, walking 400 miles through a desert so that he could accomplish his dreams in America.

“Like every undocumented student, I believe that not only am I doing what I’m doing for myself, but for my family,” said Montejano.

At Stanislaus State, the decision to repeal DACA won’t affect students’ opportunities to enroll, said the school in a statement. The university does not collect student DACA status, and will continue to fully support students, faculty and staff who may be impacted.

University of California, Merced, Chancellor Dorothy Leland called the decision to end DACA a “cruel bait-and-switch for the many young adults who are living, learning and working here under its protections.”

There are nearly 600 undocumented students that call UC Merced home, she said, and urged Congress to pass legislation which will allow Dreamers to remain in America.

The Center for American Progress conducted a study which found that the loss of all DACA workers in America (91 percent of Dreamers are employed) would mean that roughly 30,000 a month would lose their work permits as their DACA status expires, reducing U.S. GDP by $433 billion over the next 10 years.

The state of California stands to lose the most if Dreamers are deported, with one in four DACA recipients calling the state home. The state would suffer a gross domestic product loss of $11.3 billion a year. In the wake of the DACA decision, California Attorney General Xavier Becca announced that he is prepared to sue the Trump administration over its decision.

“President Trump has turned his back on hundreds of thousands of children and young Americans who came forward and put their trust in our government. But in terminating DACA, the Trump administration has also violated the Constitution and federal law,” said Attorney General Becerra, stating that nearly 80 percent of voters want to protect the legal status of Dreamers. “Attorney General Sessions claims this decision is full of ‘compassion,’ but real compassion would be treating Dreamers ‘with heart,’ as President Trump himself said. California is taking action because one in four DACA grantees live in our great state. I will do everything I can to fight for them.”