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DREAMers Deferred 

President Trump’s decision to curtail DACA sends hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth into legal limbo

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Danyelle Khmara

Marygrace Ghio found out she was undocumented when she was 13 years old.

"It was sort of shocking because I was at the age where everyone got their license and then they went off to college," she said. "And when I found out, it was like, well, I guess I won't be doing those things."

Like many Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, Marygrace, who is now 20 years old, speaks perfect Spanish and English, with no trace of an accent in either.

She got DACA at 17 years old and started working right away.

DACA was created by an Obama policy directive in 2012. It allowed the children of undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them into the country at a young age, have lived in the U.S. for at least five years and don't have a criminal record to live without fear of deportation and to work legally.

Since then, 800,000 young people across the country have joined the program. Several years after DACA was created, and following many other states, officials determined DACA recipients were in the country legally and therefore eligible to obtain a driver's license and pay in-state tuition to college.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Tuesday, Sept. 5, that the Trump administration would be ending the DACA program. There would no new applicants, and those with DACA would be allowed one more two-year renewal within the next six months.

Raised by a single mother, Marygrace moved to the U.S. from Peru when she was 4 years old. Until middle school, she knew little about immigration or what being undocumented meant. Then she got into some trouble in school. She can't even remember what she did but she recalls that her mom told her she did not have the luxury of teenage rebellion.

After that, she matured fast. When high school friends invited her to drink alcohol, smoke weed or go to parties, she stopped hanging out with those friends.

"I just tried to do good for myself because I knew that the only way I could get to college was through private scholarships," she said.

But there are very few private scholarships available for undocumented students at the University of Arizona. Her mother struggled for a year to pay tuition at the UA, but it was too expensive and Marygrace had to switch to Pima Community College.

"They took so much from us, they took away our fear." - DANYELLE KHMARA
  • Danyelle Khmara
  • "They took so much from us, they took away our fear."


She'll finish her associates degree in May and wants to go back to the UA and get a bachelor's in anthropology, then a graduate degree studying immigration.

But now, it seems her DACA will expire halfway through her junior year, driving the in-state tuition of $12,200 up to the $32,400 out-of-state cost. She'll also lose her job and her driver's license.

"There's a lot of things that 13-year-old me never imagined having, like getting into a car and driving," she said. "Step by step, I started achieving the things that I never thought I would be able to."

When Marygrace heard Trump was ending DACA, she was ready for it. And she's not alone.

Trump's actions are pushing people to do more, she said. "Many people, even some DACA recipients, felt comfortable. And now they are pushing—not for just DACA but for the 11.5 million."

The day after Trump's announcement, Marygrace and four friends were in De Anza Park as people gathered for a protest.

Stteffanny Cott, a member of Lucha Unida de Padres y Estudiantes, or LUPE, reads the demands to the growing crowd.

They demanded the legalization of all undocumented immigrants, for the city council to declare Tucson a sanctuary city, for the end of militarization of the border and no border wall.

"This is about human rights," Cott said into the microphone. "The respect of all immigrant rights and human rights."

DACA recipient Jessica Rodriguez gets up on the picnic-table stage. She looks like she could cry, but she's beaming, full of rage, vulnerability and life.

"We are here to send a message and defend people with DACA," she says. "We are not a number. We are not a story to be sold to the media. We are human beings."

click to enlarge Jessica Rodriguez: "We are not a number.... We are human beings." - DANYELLE KHMARA
  • Danyelle Khmara
  • Jessica Rodriguez: "We are not a number.... We are human beings."

She tells everyone to text a loved one who's not at the rally, to advise them where they are and to wait for another text saying they're safely back home. Rodriguez then gives everyone a phone number and tells them to text their name and personal information, in case anyone goes missing.

Organizers explain to the crowd how to "flank." Put the most vulnerable people in the middle. People with "white-skin privilege" walk on the outside. The organizers are prepared. New allies are learning.

They have street medics on-hand with Chukson Area Resistance Medics, and people collecting donations for DACA recipients who can't afford the $500 to renew their paperwork. Organizers remind the crowd it's a peaceful event and to stay hydrated.

A man with a tie-dye T-shirt and a long white beard hops on a bicycle towing a cart loaded with cases of water bottles and flying an American flag. And the crowd begins their march.

Led by DREAMers, hundreds walk down Fourth Avenue to City Hall, chanting. "No hate. No fear. Immigrants are welcome here."

When the group reaches El Presidio Park outside City Hall, LUPE's Edward Cott warns people to be careful not to slip on puddles of water on the path as people of all colors and ages crowd onto the mall where speakers tell the crowd it's time to stand with immigrants.

"We don't need any more allies," said Gabriela Baruch-Mayo, with Mariposas Sin Fronteras. "We need accomplices."

This state has persecuted and terrorized a community of people long enough, said Black Lives Matter member Najima Rainey.

"I was complicit, and I will no longer be complicit with this system," she said to cheers. "I will show up for my brothers and sisters today, but I should have been showing up the whole time."

The city council promised a sanctuary city, she said, and they didn't show up.

"They will not knock down your doors and drag you away from your children," she said. "Not in this town."

click to enlarge At a rally last week, the crowd demanded that Mayor Jonathan Rothschild declare Tucson a sanctuary city. - DANYELLE KHMARA
  • Danyelle Khmara
  • At a rally last week, the crowd demanded that Mayor Jonathan Rothschild declare Tucson a sanctuary city.

Inside City Hall, the council was busy voting unanimously to send a letter to Arizona's congressional delegation in support of legislation that would give DREAMers protection from deportation. Hearing the shouts, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild came out to offer words of support. Drowned out by the cries to declare Tucson a sanctuary city, Rothschild cut his speech short and left the stage.

Councilwoman Regina Romero said that activists are picking the wrong target when they criticize the Tucson City Council, given that council members have been supporting of DACA. She says Trump's decision to end the program "was irrational and race-based."

Romero pointed out a number of steps that the Tucson City Council has taken to protect and support the undocumented immigrant community, including challenge the "show me your papers" bill; passing a resolution supporting the DREAM Act, which would have provided relief for undocumented youth; passing an "immigrant welcoming city" resolution; and changing the police department's general orders to mitigate the harm of SB1070.

Tucson also signed a resolution, in June, opposing a border wall, vowing to divest from companies involved in its construction.

All this doesn't change that DACA recipients and the entire immigrant community are still at risk. But declaring it a sanctuary city won't stop the federal government from deporting people, Romero said. And using the term could make Tucson a target for the Trump administration, putting it at risk of losing millions of dollars in federal funding.

Romero said as Trump divides communities, it doesn't make sense to "circle the wagons and shoot in."

"The immigration issue is the civil rights movement of our time," she said. "We're not the evil guys here. We're here to help."

She said people should create coalitions and campaigns, write letters and call elected federal officials, namely Republican Rep. Martha McSally and U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake.

"The real struggle is for us to unify and point at where the real evil is," Romero said. "Who are the real villains here?"

McSally has said she was against the DREAM Act on the campaign trail and voted along with her fellow Republicans to sue the Obama administration to overturn DACA, but now says she supports legislation that would give DREAMers legal status. She was a cosponsor this year of the Recognizing America's Children Act, or RAC, legislation backed by 18 Republicans that would allow some DREAMers a pathway to legal status.

Introduced by Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in March, RAC would allow a five-year conditional status to DREAMers. Provided that DREAMers don't break any laws, don't use public assistance, pay back taxes with interest and are continually either employed, in school, in the military or receive an honorable discharge, they would qualify for a five-year permanent residency at the end of the conditional-status period.

"We may have to walk the plank together and have a compromised solution," McSally told the Tucson Weekly. "Different elements on both sides want different things, but there's a way for us to find some common ground to address these issues because these kids need some certainty, and we've got to solve this legislatively."

McCain and Flake, who were among the co-sponsors of the so-called Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate but stalled in the House in 2013, both criticized the Trump administration for pulling the plug on DACA.

In an interview with CNN's State of the Union this week, McCain called on Congress to resolve the legal status of DREAMers as part of a comprehensive immigration reform package.

"It is not conscionable to tell young people who came here as children that they have to go back to a country that they don't know," McCain said.

Flake, who has sponsored several bills to give DREAMers legal status, said in a statement that Congress should take action."The ball is back in Congress' court where it belongs, and there are a lot of innocent kids counting on Congress to do its job," Flake said. "Congress must act immediately to pass permanent, stand-alone legislation to lawfully ensure that children who were brought here by their parents, through no fault of their own, are able to stay and finish their education and continue to contribute to society."

click to enlarge Deporting DACA recipients would equate to a $460.3 billion impact to our national GDP, according to a study by Business FWD. - DANYELLE KHMARA
  • Danyelle Khmara
  • Deporting DACA recipients would equate to a $460.3 billion impact to our national GDP, according to a study by Business FWD.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a complaint against the Arizona Board of Regents last Friday, Sept. 8, in Maricopa County Superior Court, claiming they're illegally allowing DACA recipients to pay in-state tuition.

Earlier this year, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled those in DACA are not eligible for in-state because of a 2006 law that says one must have "lawful immigration status." But Maricopa County schools are arguing that the DACA does provide legal status, and the ABOR agrees.

Brnovich has also asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rescind drivers' licenses from DACA recipients because they're not here legally. A appellate court that already heard the case disagreed. Considering that DACA is coming to end, the Court may decide not to even look at this case.

What's more, Brnovich may have been strong armed into the latest lawsuit by Russell Pearce, the former Arizona lawmaker who sponsored SB 1070.

In 2014, Pearce became the first serving state Senate president to be recalled after voters in his Mesa district decided they'd had enough of his conservative politics and elected a more moderate Republican in a recall election. That same year, he was forced to resign from a state party post after saying women who recieve Medicaid should be sterilized.

Pearce sent a July letter to Brnovich saying he would sue members of the ABOR personally and hold them financially accountable for allowing DACA recipients to pay in-state tuition.

ABOR President Eileen Klein countered Pearce's claim in an August letter to Brnovich, saying the board would not change the tuition policy until the Arizona Supreme Court issues a ruling. She pointed out if they did, and the Supreme Court were to reverse the decision, it would mean DACA students would have unfairly paid higher tuition rates.

About 240 Dreamers pay in-state tuition at Arizona's three state universities, a collective $1.5 million discount from out-of-state costs. As Klein pointed out in the letter, most of them would not be able to attend college at all if not for the lower price.

Klein told Brnovich that having an educated workforce is in the best interest of Arizona-a point echoed by some members of the local business community.

"Why would we not want a future workforce built that grew up here, that speak English, that don't have criminal backgrounds?" said Lea Márquez-Peterson, president and CEO of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "Why wouldn't we want them here gainfully employed or going to school?"

Márquez-Peterson and other leaders in the Arizona business community signed an open letter to Arizona's congressional delegation to state their opposition to terminating DACA.

DACA "has helped thousands of young Arizonans pay their way through school, contribute to our state's workforce, start new businesses that create jobs, and have the opportunity to call the Grand Canyon State home," the letter reads.

Citing data from the New American Economy, the letter says that the majority of the 1.3 million nationwide who are DACA-eligible have graduated high school and speak English. They earn a collective $19.9 billion yearly and contribute more than $3 billion to federal, state and local taxes.

The almost 40,000 DACA-eligible in Arizona pay a collective $40 million in state and local taxes annually, and without them Arizona's GDP would be $1.3 billion every year and would cost the state $280 billion loss in economic growth over the next decade, the letter says.

The United States really needs comprehensive immigration reform that fits the needs of our workforce, Márquez-Peterson said. But in the next two to three months, Congress needs to pass a program for DREAMers.

"This is a very important issue for the future economy of Arizona," she said, adding that the Census Bureau estimates that by 2030, Pima County will be majority Hispanic. "From a political perspective, we want our elected officials to act and to advocate for a solution for our Dreamer students."

The crowd at the march - DANYELLE KHMARA
  • Danyelle Khmara
  • The crowd at the march


For DREAMers, DACA provides a number of benefits, including the ability to legally drive, work, get educated, buy a house, achieve professional goals, start a business and have relief from deportation.

DREAMers come from all over the world. While 79 percent are from Mexico, there's another 75,500 young people from Latin American countries and 94,000 from other parts of the world, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

They are individuals with unique goals and experiences.

Fernando Najera is on full scholarship at the UA. He came to the U.S. from Mexico with his mom and two brothers when he was 3. They had trouble getting by even though his mother had steady work with the Mexican government, so they got tourist visas to the U.S. and stayed.

His father couldn't get any visa and attempted the desert crossing twice until he reunited with his family. Fernando's dad told him stories of what he faced in that desert journey.

"His story is one of immense sacrifice," Fernando said. "It's exemplary of the type of courage it takes. These people do these illegal things just trying to find a better live for themselves and their families. My dad's story is a true testament to that."

DACA recipient Mira Patel is majoring in economics at the UA and wants to go to law school.

She moved to the U.S. from London when she was 5, with her parents and older brother. Her father is originally from India, and they moved to the U.S. to escape racism.

"They felt they didn't want to live in a place where their children would face discrimination or violence because of your race or your color," Mira said. "They always heard America was the land of opportunity and a melting pot, and everyone was welcome."


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