CCNY Fights To Keep Dreamers Safe

Photo by Julia Katsman, A CCNY Dream Team poster to spread the word

by Julia Katsman

The clock ticks as young people wait for Congress to act and create a new DACA program. President Trump announced that he would give Congress six months to pass legislation to preserve DACA before it gets terminated. In the meantime, at The City College of New York, there’s an effort to help students whose legal status is threatened.

DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is a program former President Obama created in 2012. It offers undocumented immigrants two years of amnesty and the right to get a Social Security number, to work, and to go to college. Eight hundred thousand young people could lose their legal status if the program is permanently withdrawn.

These people now wait in fear of the decision to come. Will the benefits of the DACA program be terminated? Or will Congress come up with a fair way to provide Dreamers with similar benefits?

CCNY opposes the repeal of DACA. According to Interim President Vince Boudreau, there are three ways that CCNY is currently trying to give aid. The first way is through protest—both in person and in the written word. Students and faculty will hold assemblies, and spread the word outside the campus. The second way that CCNY is trying to help is by applying pressure on elected officials. The plan is to create massive public resistance against the termination of DACA rights. The third way is to offer protection, encouragement, and support to the Dreamers.

Boudreau said, “If at any time an immigration official enters our buildings or calls one of our phone lines—inquires in any way after any of our students–every single one of us must respond only by referring the inquiry to Executive Counsel to the President, Paul Occhiogrosso.” In addition, the campus offers help via the City College Immigration Center.

Students also created after-class clubs in support of Dreamers. One of these clubs is called the CCNY Dream Team. The team is dedicated to the cultivation of relationships to empower and educate different immigrant groups within the CCNY community.

The founder of the CCNY Dream Team explained,“The main purpose of this club is to give undocumented students and their allies a safe haven to meet, discuss issues that are affecting the CCNY community and advocate for fair immigration policies. The team works to educate the student body, faculty and staff about issues affecting the immigrant community at City College and inform students of opportunities, such as scholarships and internships.”

The City College hopes that DACA students will feel safe and supported by the campus community.

 

DACA And A Young Mother

by Laura Aquino

What will happen to my baby? This is our country. I don’t know Ecuador like that, last time I was there I was only six years old,” Esther said. The twenty-three-year-old mother, and Dreamer, worries about what will happen.

On September 5th, 2017, President Donald J. Trump rescinded the DACA program. Trump announced his administration would give Congress six months to come up with a law to protect the young immigrants from deportation. If Congress fails to come up with a solution, Esther and 800,000 immigrants in the DACA program will lose their authorization to work and to receive an education.

Back in 2012, Barack Obama issued an executive order that became known as DACA. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is an American immigration policy that allows undocumented immigrants who enter the United States as minors to receive legal status.

“My parents, like many others, came to the U.S seeking  a better future for their kids. I have lived here for as long as I can remember. I grew up under the American culture. Now I have to go back to an unknown country?” Esther asked.

As tears escaped from her eyes, Esther wonders how this will turn out for her and her daughter.

“I have a sixteen-month-old baby girl who was born here. What will to happen to her? Would she have to go live in Ecuador? Are they taking her away from me?  I just hope the Congress comes up with a solution because uncertainness is keeping me awake at night. I work hard and I will soon graduate from college and its scares the hell out me that my parent’s sacrifices were in vain and mine and my daughter’s future are taken away from our hands, just like that.”

 

 

The Biggest Secret

by Zhané  Parker

Imagine being a junior in high school but not being able to travel, get a license, or work. This was Marjorie Anacelia Fajardo’s reality until the establishment of DACA.

“It was a lifesaver, it completely opened new doors for me,” she said.

Marjorie was born in Olanchito, Honduras and raised in La Ceiba by her aunt and uncle. Her mom left for the U.S. without her when she was one. “I stayed in contact with my mom always but it wasn’t a close relationship,” she recalled recently.

At seven, her life changed forever after one call from her mom. She was told she was moving to the U.S. to live with her mom who was pregnant with her brother and was being brought to the U.S. by an uncle she had never met.

“I  was excited to travel to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico but didn’t really understand the situation! It was a really sad day for me, I was leaving the people that raised me.”

Marjorie and her uncle began hopping from house to house, sleeping on floors, and waking up before the sun to reach their next destination. The person leading them often struggled to pay off cops and coordinate their route. When they reached the Mexican border, she was separated from her uncle and left with relatives. Her uncle was sent back to Honduras. Marjorie’s relatives took her and passed her off as their daughter to fool border control when they entered the U.S. by car.

“It was dark that night, probably around 1 a.m.  They told me no matter what happened I had to pretend to be asleep,” she recalled.

A border patrol officer shined his flashlight in their faces and demanded to see their ID’s to prove citizenship.  The officer saw Marjorie asleep in the backseat and demanded to see if her face matched the ID her family showed. Her family convinced the officer to let her remain asleep. Her life in the United States had just begun.

“If he saw my face I wouldn’t have made it through,” she said.

The relatives brought her to her mother in Texas, whom she had never met, a complete stranger. “I was indifferent, I don’t remember feeling happy or sad. I felt numb,” Majorie said.

She remembered that she hated leaving her home and language behind for the United States. In school, peers bullied her for sounding and looking different, for not being an American.

Undocumented, she always had to lie about why and how she left Honduras.

“I felt guilty keeping my secret from everyone, I couldn’t do a lot of things and I didn’t have a Social Security number. Whenever I saw a box for it I would look at it and think about what I could possibly write down. It scared me. Thankfully DACA was passed just in time for me to go to college. I could now get a job and fill in that box.”

On June 15th, 2012 the Obama administration established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This changed the lives of nearly 800,000 undocumented children living in the United States, giving them a sense of acceptance and freedom.

Recently, President Trump rescinded DACA and threatened life for so many including Marjorie. After she heard the news she began to laugh in disbelief and called her cousin who was also protected by DACA.

“I thought about how the government could easily send us back. We know no one in Honduras and would probably be killed if we went back. I don’t know what I’d do. I have no family there,” she worried.

Marjorie says she refuses to stop chasing her dream of working in film production. She is putting together a documentary about the effects DACA has had on children’s lives.

“I want to be the voice for all those afraid to discuss their status and I want to tell their stories. The support from people has been so heartwarming. There are so many standing with us.”

At twenty-one, her life and future are threatened but she remains optimistic and is touched by the overwhelming support.

“We will keep fighting, we are not going anywhere!”

 

 

Life In Limbo

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Dreamers Protest DACA Repeal, photo by Rhododendrites, Creative Commons 4.0 License Courtesy Wikimedia

 

By Elihu Fleury

Tom’s parents left Bangledesh and brought him to the United States when he was five. They wanted him to have a better life than they had growing up. They settled in Elmhurst, Queens where he made friends, went to  elementary school and Newtown High School. He doesn’t want his real name used, but he wants his story told because he’s upset about President Trump’s sudden withdrawal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

He always thought of himself as a legitimate American. “I didn’t know that I was an ‘illegal’ until the age of 14”, he said. “It’s hard to explain the feeling.”

As soon as President Obama created DACA in 2012, Tom applied. He  got a Social Security number and a permit to work.  He immediately got a job and developed a strong work ethic that earned good reviews from his supervisors.

DACA gave him a real sense of freedom and security, and allowed him to follow his passions including weight lifting. His regular routine includes work, study, friends and exercise. In other words, he lives a typical New York life.

“I don’t know any other country but the United States,” Tom complained bitterly. “It’s my home, not Bangladesh. I grew up here, I met my best friends here, I went to my first concert here, I had my first kiss. None of that in Bangladesh.”

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) gave him hope. DACA guarantees work permits and deportation relief to  immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children.

President Trump plan to repeal it threatens the future of 800,000 Dreamers like Tom.

Dreamers and other protested all across the country. Their colleges supported them. Some offered sanctuary and advice to protect them from immigration agents. 15 state governments filed a joint lawsuit to prevent the DACA rollback. California filed its own lawsuit because about 30 percent of DACA residents live there.  Six Dreamers in San Francisco also filed a lawsuit, saying that the repeal “was motivated by unconstitutional bias against Mexicans and Latinos.”

Tom felt more immediate effects. He had an interview for a job as a teller at a Manhattan bank before Trump announced the end of DACA.  He almost didn’t go.  “Because of the now dead DACA, I was very unenthusiastic about the interview and had to force myself to pretend that I cared about the interview,” he said.

He got the job.  But his DACA eligibility expires soon and he doesn’t know what he’ll do.

In fact, his immigration status affects his motivation to finish college. “I’m so close to graduating, but once I do and can’t work, then what was the point?”, he explains.  He continues to worry and says, “Normally I would be very motivated that all of my hard work paid off, and I had an opportunity for a position I’ve wanted for the longest time, but now it’s really hard for me to care.”

Tom seems like a confident 22 year-old-man, but inside he shares the turmoil experienced by other Dreamers. He fears deportation and thinks about it constantly.

It makes him angry.  “ICE can suck it,” he almost spat. “They treat immigrants and ‘illegals’ like trash, not humans”. He pointed out that he has no criminal record  and “I don’t plan on having a record so I hope I don’t get deported. I plan on working for as long as I can, either at the bank or any other job I hope to get.”

Glimmers of hope exist. In the past few weeks, Mr. Trump began working with Democrats on a deal to preserve DACA. Yet nothing concrete has happened.

For Tom, a solution can’t come soon enough. “If I do end up getting deported, that would really suck,” he said, ”and that’s the most ‘PG’ way I can put it”.

 

 

 

Death of a Dream

 

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by Michael C. Bohn

“I learned how to ride a bike here. I went to school here. My first kiss was here!” Twenty-year-old DACA recipient and City College freshman Jose Martinez laughed.  “I was born in El Salvador but the United States is my home.”

For many, citizenship is more than a legal document.

“It’s things like that that are so simple, but truly the experience of being an American… it just so happens my passport doesn’t say I’m an American and my birth certificate doesn’t say I was born in America, but I feel just as proud of America as you do.”

Jose had come on a sunny afternoon to the crowded, windowless, one-room office of the CCNY Immigration Center seeking information. (https://www.ccny.cuny.edu/we-are-one-ccny/city-college-immigration-center)

Enzo Soderini, Senior Paralegal, helps the students and projected warmth and compassion. A steady stream of worried young Dreamers needed his help.  “We are very busy,” he confided.

Many who have received DACA( https://www.uscis.gov/)status are still fearful, reluctant to speak, but Jose was eager to tell his story, grateful to anyone would listen.

“Once that program came out it was kind of like we came out of a dark tunnel because we were hidden in the shadows. And it made me believe that the American Dream still exists. So now that DACA is coming to an end very soon I feel like I have to go back to where I was and I don’t wanna be back to that stage any more, back into the shadows.”

On September 5th, 2017, President Trump, citing the need for Congress to act on the issue, had Attorney General Jeff Sessions deliver the news that DACA would end, phased out over the next two-and-a-half years.

President Obama issued an Executive Order in 2012 creating DACA after Congress failed to act on immigration reform. While it is only one piece of the debate, it was an attempt to address one of least controversial portions of the immigration debate. Most Republicans, Democrats and Americans agree that those too young to have had any part in their presence here should not be penalized, and should be given a path toward citizenship.  

Eight hundred thousand so-called Dreamers are currently enrolled in the program, and nearly 42,000 in New York State alone.

They are everywhere. Sitting next to you in class or at work. It could be the nice young man selling you shoes, as Jose does when he is not in school holding down five classes this semester. “I’m just grateful that people are interested in my experience,” he said.

Jose arrived here from El Salvador with his mother in 2001 when he was three years old. “If DACA ends he could be forced to live in a country that he does not remember. “My heart and mind will be here in America but my body will be there,” he said.

Jose is an American history buff. He is a fan of founding fathers Ben Franklin and fellow immigrant Alexander Hamilton. He has faith in the ideals expressed by the founding fathers, ideas that fueled hopes for freedom around the world. Young Dreamers like Jose, raised in this country, and fed those same ideals, now wait, and hope their dream will come true.

“I just renewed my DACA on August 18th.  That gives me two years and a couple months.”

Ironically, it may be capitalism and the free market fundamentals that save DACA for the Dreamers. “Owners of business, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix – they all support us.  So, it makes me happy that we have the support and that hopefully something will get done.  I still believe in the American Dream,” he smiles.

 

Dreamers and Fates Undecided

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Photo by Makeda Viechweg, The City College Campus, Harlem, New York

By: Makeda Viechweg

“Last week an old guy, I don’t know if he was faculty or a student, came to us and said, ‘Hide! ICE is here on campus checking IDs,’ and I was so scared!” says Linda, a DACA recipient at The City College of New York.

Although Linda misheard the man and agents of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were nowhere near the Harlem Campus, this is the kind of anxiety young DACA recipients feel.   When President Trump rescinded DACA, he threatened their futures.

President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2012 and created The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for people brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents before they were sixteen. It gave them Social Security numbers, work permits, and legal status that they could renew every two years.  President Trump gave Congress a deadline of six months to come up with a replacement for DACA.

Linda, nineteen, prefers not to disclose her full name because of the risk to her and her family’s safety.

She is the only one in her family that received DACA approval and her parents worry that she may get deported. Linda’s father came to the United States from Ecuador and her mother from France. They met in Venezuela where she was born.  She was brought to the U.S. at the age of three and her other siblings were born in America. Now that DACA is rescinded, Linda may be separated from her family.

If deported, Linda faces the turmoil and poverty in Venezuela. “It’s really, really bad. Corrupt. Horrible long lines to get simple toiletries and groceries. With their Social Security numbers, people get assigned days of the week to pick up groceries if anything is available.”

Inflation and political policies caused the once-prosperous country to decline. According to The Guardian, Venezuela’s food crisis has caused three-quarters of their population to lose weight. Many are hospitalized and dying from malnutrition.

The Guardian reports that some young girls are forced to work in brothels at the age of twelve, because there is no other work and they need food to support their family.

The thought of going back to Venezuela infuriates Linda.

“I am angry about the whole situation. At first I was numb and I couldn’t believe what I saw on Facebook because not everything on there is true. My permit expires this December and in the process of renewing it, we visited a couple of lawyers and they assured us that they’re not going to take it out and then the news said that they’re going to take it out.”

Linda majors in nursing at the City College and works hard at keeping up with the demanding curriculum. Nursing requires dedication and enough time to study. She juggles her anxiety, her dreams about the future, and her school work. The termination of the DACA program doesn’t stop her from reaching her goal. “It has made me more motivated and determined to achieve the best I can in all my classes and it’s more important than ever to push myself in any way I can.”

On the City College campus Linda joined the Dream Team, a club that provides a safe space for DACA students. She says it helps to have people around you who know what you’re going through. “It gives you moral support because I grew up being the only person around my age that was undocumented. I was always alone and told to keep quiet and lie when asked questions from anyone. But at the Dream Team I have people to talk to.”

As of today there is not a final decision on DACA. Roughly 800,000 Dreamers are left hanging in the wind and the country needs answers. California has the largest number of Dreamers. According to Statista, there are 223,000 undocumented youths living in California. Lawmakers there passed a sanctuary bill on September 16th. It declares California as a sanctuary state against deportation. It protects immigrants from being questioned by ICE, even those with felonies, according to Fox News.

On September 18th, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi hosted a conference in San Francisco discussing the Dream Act.  Forty immigrant protestors called her a “liar,” according to The Mercury News. The protestors distrust her because of  her private meetings with President Trump and they say she is using Dreamers as “bargaining chips”. Pelosi is accused of bargaining the Dream Act for strict border security measures. DACA protestors want protection for themselves and the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, which the Dream Act doesn’t cover.

If she could talk on the behalf of all Dreamers and directly to politicians she would say,

“Nothing comes easy. Keep pushing, keep voting for politicians that will do actions that favor everyone and not just a small percentage and then we can make a difference. Being educated on the subject is helpful. Educate and help educate others. Don’t stay in a box all the time. This goes for both sides. Ending DACA and deporting everyone is not the best way to solve the issue. Reforming the immigration system and making a pathway to residency and citizenship for us will make a positive impact that will benefit everyone. Listen to facts. Don’t hold onto stereotypes.”

 

Here to Stay

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by Alfha Gonzalez

Carleny Valentin suffers from the fear that fills her heart when she opens her eyes every morning. President Trump ordered an end to DACA, a program that protected 800,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation. The future of these young Dreamers  is uncertain. While the sun rises and sets, every Dreamer experiences fear and dismay.

Former President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012. The program protected illegal immigrants who came into the United States as minors. The program provided them two years of deferred action from deportation and allowed them to get a Social Security number and a work permit. Many families saw this as an opportunity to achieve the American Dream.

All immigrants protected by DACA have a story.

Carleny came to the United States at nine from the Dominican Republic with her father and siblings. She left behind an alcoholic mother who used heroin and beat her. She was often harassed at school for being different, for speaking broken English and for being dark-skinned. She remembers the word “abuse” as the one word that brings back her childhood.

Her father, who came into this country legally, never tried to help her fix her legal status. Her four siblings are all citizens.

Carleny left home at fifteen without finishing high school. She took refuge in alcoholism, drifted away from her family and started working. Ten years later, after going through rehabilitation and committed to change, Carleny has been sober for five years. She also found love.

She married Dereck Somwar, an American citizen.  She gave birth to fraternal twins on July 26th, a boy and a girl. Carleny had worked illegally. But DACA provided her with a sense of security and her fear was gone. Her marriage allowed her to apply for citizenship on September 14th. She will become the woman she always wanted to be without the constant panic nagging at her.

If she had the opportunity to talk to the president, she would say, “It isn’t late for someone who wants to change. I’ve worked day and night, as hard as necessary to stay afloat in this country. Regardless of my past I have always tried to give people the happiness I never received. I am looking forward to a better future, where I am here to stay with my family, who I love and cherish very much, sincerely. Thanks to love I am where I am today. But I fear that the future of those who, like me, were protected by DACA might be in danger. That the lives of 800,000 that know no other home might be torn apart”.

She asks President Trump to have mercy,  to think about the families that this decision might separate and to put himself in the position of those his decision puts at risk.