‘Dreamers’ at DSU fear deportation

DOVER — As U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end to a policy that provides protections to some immigrants living in the country illegally, nine of those immigrants who are now students at Delaware State University shared their hopes and fears with Delaware’s senior U.S. senator.

The end of the federal policy begun in 2012 by President Barack Obama — called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — places the long-term status of those nine, and about 65 other DSU students, into question.

Deportation is a possibility although Congress could pass legislation allowing certain people here illegally to remain.

The students, sometimes known as “Dreamers,” are attending Delaware State with the aid of TheDream.US, a philanthropic organization that helps immigrants unlawfully living in the country afford college.

“The Dreamers are one of the most impressive groups of young people that I’ve met,” Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat, said Tuesday.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative allows certain individuals to delay deportation, possibly indefinitely. To qualify, the illegal immigrant must have been under age 31 as of June 15, 2012, came to the United States at 15 or younger, have continuously lived in the country since at least June 15, 2007, graduated high school, be in school or be a discharged veteran and have never been convicted of serious crimes.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., meets with DSU Dreamer students during a round table conference at Delaware State University on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said in a statement, “Dreamers are overwhelmingly hard working and tax paying, many have served in our armed forces or graduated near the top of their schools and should be allowed to continue to contribute to our nation,” while Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., in a statement called the decision “cruel.”

But others disagree.

The program “essentially provided a legal status for recipients for a renewable two-year term, work authorization and other benefits, including participation in the social security program, to 800,000 mostly adult illegal aliens,” Attorney General Sessions said in a statement Tuesday.

“This policy was implemented unilaterally to great controversy and legal concern after Congress rejected legislative proposals to extend similar benefits on numerous occasions to this same group of illegal aliens.

“In other words, the executive branch, through DACA, deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions. Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.”

President Trump said in a statement there will be “an orderly transition and wind-down of DACA” that will honor existing work permits until they expire.

The issue now goes to Congress, and Sen. Carper is hopeful Republicans and Democrats can come together on a bill.

Sen. Tom Carper D-Del., speaks with DSU Dreamer students, from left, Maria Lima, Itzel Serrano, Kevin Gutterrez, Yolma Lopez and Jazmin Flores during a round table conference at Delaware State University on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“Sending all these people home … after they’ve grown up here their whole life, that doesn’t make much sense,” he said.

All nine of the Dreamers who met with Sen. Carper Tuesday said they would be the first one in their families to graduate from college. The nine, who are from Mexico, Brazil and El Salvador, delivered emotional testimony of their desires to succeed in the United States and fears of being deported.

“I want to give back to American because America is my home. That’s all I have ever known and this place has given me so many opportunities and I think that it’s terrifying to think that maybe you’ll be sent back,” said Heydi Quintanilla, who was born in El Salvador.

“I was brought here to chase a dream,” agreed Kevin Gutierrez, from El Salvador.

Their consistent theme, they agreed: Dreamers consider the United States their home country.

“We are Americans,” Itzel Serrano, a native of Mexico, said. “I think that’s what people debate the most about when it comes to DACA. They’re saying, ‘Oh, ok, they’re immigrants, they’re not from here, they need to go back home.’ But the thing is, it is our home.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., right, speaks with DSU Dreamers as DSU President Harry Williams, center, and DSU Provost Tony Allen listen during a round table conference at Delaware State University on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“Like they said, I was basically born here. I was brought here when I was three months old so this is all I know. I did grow up learning English basically as my first language. I have a hard time reading and writing in Spanish so this is all I know. I am American … maybe not on paper, but I went to school here, I grew up here, I have American culture.”

About 11 million people are in the United States illegally, with about half of those here from Mexico. A 2016 analysis from the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Center estimated there were about 25,000 “undocumented” individuals in Delaware in 2014.

Many of those immigrants came to the country out of a desire to escape violence and poverty in Central America and Mexico, they say. That violence is partly driven by the drug trade, a problem Sen. Carper, 70, claimed the United States created and then ignored.

It’s one of the things that frightens Dreamers about the possibility of being deported, they said: Alonda Duenas, for instance, said she had family members in Mexico who were murdered by drug cartels.

Delaware State University is firmly behind the Dreamers, according to university President Harry Williams. He pointed to DSU’s history of embracing the disadvantaged. The university was founded in 1891 for black students who were not allowed attend the University of Delaware.

The 34 students who entered DSU last year through TheDream.US are still in college, although some have transferred elsewhere, according to TheDream.US co-founder Don Graham.
The nine who met with Sen. Carper included a mix of freshmen and sophomores, with majors like education, mass communications and pre-nursing.

The left-leaning Center for American Progress claimed ending DACA would result in a loss of about $460 billion from the economy over a 10-year period.

The likelihood of pro-Dreamer legislation succeeding largely depends on what role the White House wants to play, Sen. Carper said. He expressed his hope President Trump will be a “noncombatant” in the debate.

In a statement, the president called on Congress to act and said he does “not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents,” but will place the needs of American citizens first.

Mr. Sessions blamed the program for costing hundreds of thousands of Americans jobs, but Sen. Carper claimed the country has a shortage of qualified workers. Dreamers are hard workers, he insisted, remarks seconded by the Dreamers themselves.

“We’re here to fight, we’re here to succeed, to prove our parents’ sacrifices were worth it and become the best version, our best selves,” Ms. Serrano said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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