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University hosts event to discuss unpredictable future of DACA program

Panel members spoke about coping with program’s uncertainty, U.S. political climate

Senior Staff Writer
Monday, April 23, 2018

During the event, five individuals discussed the merits of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The event was moderated by a student journalist who took the course INTL 1802W: “International Journalism.”

Five individuals in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program spoke about living without documentation and their uncertain futures at an event titled “‘DACA is Dead’ — Young Immigrants in Conversation with Student Journalists” Monday evening. The event, organized by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and students from INTL 1802W: “International Journalism,” comes amid recent controversy over the course’s inclusion of an assignment to profile local DACA recipients, The Herald previously reported.

Though the event was initially billed as an opportunity for seven students in INTL 1802W to “report what they learned” from their coursework and for “several immigrants … to share their own stories,” according to the Watson Institute’s website, the event actually featured a panel comprising DACA recipients moderated by one student journalist.

One panelist, who is a student at the University and requested anonymity, said he saw DACA as an opportunity to pursue higher education because it allowed him to enroll at a local community college before transferring to Brown. “When I was in high school and people were talking about plans for adult life and plans after high school, I never thought that I was gonna do very much after” graduating, he said.

“I knew that there wasn’t any financial aid” for me given my immigration status, he added. But the implementation of DACA in 2012 made attending college a legitimate possibility for the first time, the student said.

Nelson Morales-Nimaja, who came to the United States in 1991 as an infant, said the DACA program also allowed him to go to college. “Between the time that I was 18 to about 22 years old, … I didn’t really have any idea where I was going to go with life,” he said. “In 2012, (former President Barack Obama) granted DACA. … From there, I was lucky enough … to begin my career.”

While DACA has alleviated some of the burdens that accompany being an undocumented person in the United States, the program has not resolved all the issues that young immigrants face, such as the continued financial inaccessibility of higher education, said a panelist who identified herself as Yaruska.

Though a 2011 ruling from the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education made undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges in the state, Yaruska said she still struggled to pay for her education even with her enrollment in the DACA program. “I was able to get a small scholarship from the University of Rhode Island, (but) … I had to look for private scholarships, (and) … a lot of scholarships are only open to citizens.”

Additionally, prior to enrolling in the DACA program, panelist Otoniel Andres said he struggled to live and work without a driver’s license. “I couldn’t drive (legally) and see (my daughter or) get a decent job where I could afford to move in with her. … I used to drive to work and drive to see her … always in fear that I was gonna get stopped,” he said.

The panelists also spoke about grappling with the potential permanent end of DACA. “By having DACA, it has relieved some pressure,” said Pedro Nimaja. “But at the same time, we know in the back of our heads that (DACA) is temporary. … The government hasn’t made any efforts to calm that fear.”

The uncertainty surrounding DACA’s future has forced Nimaja to create a plan B for his life in the event that his DACA status is revoked. “There’s always that little fear in the back of your head, it’s always concerning, you never really sleep okay,” he said.

Several panelists also said that the absence of a straightforward pathway to citizenship or permanent legal residence is the main issue of the DACA program.

Nimaja also spoke about the ways in which the Trump administration’s insistence on ending the program has complicated the future plans of young immigrants. “All these people that are in high school … and were starting to make plans for college now can’t because they don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

Hannah Subotnick ’16, who attended the event, said the panel forced her to consider who bore the responsibility of educating the public on sensitive issues such as DACA. “These people are not only affected by the issue but (they also) have to take on the burden of explaining the (issues) to everybody else,” she said.

Though DACA’s future as a program remains unpredictable, Nimaja said he feels hopeful for whatever lies ahead. “The climate in this country is perfect for grassroots efforts and (for) people like us to come out and tell our story and educate people who are able to vote, who are able to change policy,” he said.

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