DSU ‘Dreamer’ sees DACA debate as another obstacle to overcome

 

Indira Islas attends a luncheon to meet with the governor and other Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students at Delaware State University on Friday afternoon. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — Indira Islas has lived through many adversities in her young life.

One of the most difficult the Delaware State University sophomore recalls is the time her parents — living in the United States illegally — were arrested for driving without a license and taken to jail.

She was a middle-schooler at the time. She said she remembers the fear of not knowing what would happen to her family next.

Currently, Ms. Islas is living in the United States under the protection of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

But, the future of that policy is currently up for debate on the national stage.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week announced the end of DACA, a policy that provides protections to young immigrants residing in the country illegally.

The end of this federal policy begun in 2012 by President Barack Obama places the long-term legal status of Ms. Islas and about 65 other DSU students in question.

The students, sometimes known as “Dreamers” — for their “dream” to one day become U.S. citizens — are attending Delaware State University with the aid of TheDream.US, an organization that helps such immigrants afford college.

Marchers during a DACA rally ion Leg Hall in Dover on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The DACA initiative allows those young 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 military veteran and have never been convicted of serious crimes.

Ms. Islas was brought from Guerrero, Mexico to Gainesville, Ga. by her parents when she was six. She grew up there with her seven siblings. She’s enrolled at Delaware State University and is pursuing a career in oncology.

Even though her status is currently in flux, she said she has faith that Congress will rise to the defense of students like her.

“I’m a firm believer that something better is in store for us, so I think it’s OK for them to get rid of DACA,” she said. “I believe that a lot of Congress is on board with giving us something more permanent, more fair. I’m excited to see where that’s going. I hope that a pathway to citizenship is established, because that really is our dream.”

She’s unsure of what the future will hold for her family in Georgia.

“Both my parents are still in Georgia, but my mother is on a deportation order,” said Ms. Islas. “She doesn’t drive anymore because she’s frightened. Over the summer I wasn’t able to work because I had to drive everyone around all the time.”

Ms. Islas feels the United States would be losing a lot of talent and hard workers by pursuing deportations and not offering a pathway to citizenship to her fellow “Dreamers” and undocumented immigrants in similar circumstances.

“I think a lot of the people in D.C. are going to fight for us just because of the economics of it,” she said. “I think there would be a downside to deporting Dreamers for that. We have a lot of talent to give. I love this country. I’ve lived here my whole life. I’m really excited to be a doctor, and I hope that I can contribute in some way to finding a cure for cancer. I’d like to do it here.”

Gov. John Carney agrees. In a show of solidarity, the Democrat held a luncheon to meet with DACA students at Delaware State University on Friday afternoon. Later that evening, he attended a silent vigil and rally to support DACA outside the Dover offices of U.S. Sens Tom Carper and Chris Coons, both Democrats.

The Delaware Civil Rights Coalition, Delaware Alliance Community Advancement and other residents attended the rally also and formed a procession down Loockerman Street.

“I spent six years in Congress. One of the things I learned about is that there is a lot of agreement among Democrats and Republicans about immigration issues,” Gov. Carney said. “One of the areas where there is tremendous agreement is around the “Dreamer” program, believe it or not. I believe Congress has the ability and overwhelming support, if only they are willing to work together and do the right thing for our country.”

Sen. Coons and Sen. Carper have also signaled their solidarity with “Dreamers.” Sen. Coons 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.”

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., in a statement, called the decision “cruel.”

But others disagree.

They see the situation as rewarding non-citizens who committed a crime to come to the United States, who have put heavier burdens on the nation’s education, legal and health care systems, and who take jobs that otherwise are filled by U.S. citizens.

In addition, they assert the DACA program is unconstitutional as only Congress can set immigration law and President Obama didn’t have the legal right to issue the policy.

Attorney General Sessions said in a statement Tuesday 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.

“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.

At least 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.

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

Attorney General Sessions has blamed the program for costing hundreds of thousands of Americans jobs.

Despite the looming debate in Washington, Ms. Islas feels this too shall pass.

“To all of the Dreamers, I just want to say: Don’t let what’s going on right now prevent you from continuing your education and becoming more successful in life,” she said.

“This is just another obstacle we have to overcome. We’ve been through worse adversities than this — this is nothing.

“I’ve had an amazing journey. I don’t think I’d have it anyway. I’d go through my life over and over again, just to get back to where I am today.”

Matt Bittle contributed to this report.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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