Dreamers at UCF discuss future of DACA at open forum

Dreamers at UCF held an open forum Wednesday afternoon that shed light on the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals administrative program.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, provides a renewable two-year visa to those who came to the United States illegally as children and lets them work legally without fear of deportation, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’, known as USCIS, website.

“DACA is an executive order passed in 2012. [Former President Barack] Obama wanted to make sure young people wouldn’t get punished because they did not break the law,” Anca Turcu, a UCF immigration policy professor, said.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump gave the U.S. Congress six months to either revise or remove the program, according to a Sept. 5 U.S. Department of Homeland Security memo.

About 20 people gathered in the Sand Key Meeting Room in the Student Union to voice their concerns about the future of the program.

Three DACA recipients and members of the organization spoke: Bernabe Soriano, 20, a UCF sophomore film major; Karen Caudillo, 21, a UCF junior political science major; and Fernando Lauro,19, a UCF junior film major.

Dreamers at UCF members Bernabe Soriano, Karen Caudillo and Fernando Lauro. Dreamers at UCF Forum, Sept. 27, 2017. Photo by Melanie Ararat.

Although the program does not promise citizenship, eliminating the threat of deportation provides comfort that did not exist before.

Now the threat of deportation lingers over some UCF students.

Some DACA recipients will have to face the possibility of going back to a country they never knew.  

Others like Gene Taylor, a UCF senior majoring in psychology, came to the United States when he was 11 years old and has lived here for about 13 years.

Adapting to the culture of his native country Nicaragua would be the hardest part of going back, Taylor, 24, said.

Even though the program is not removed yet, it is already affecting undocumented students at UCF.

Termination of the program could cause student DACA recipients to be deported and leave UCF without continuing their education, Turcu said.

“It was convenient to have DACA and really live my youth to the full extent. It allowed me to have a normal experience as any college student and do what people my age were doing,” Caudillo said.

She received DACA in her junior year of high school and was able to do small things such as get a parking pass at school and join the wrestling team. 

Losing access to the program will impact her life and education on a daily basis and make it more complicated for her to keep receiving in-state tuition, she said.

Kevin Ortiz, 26, president of Dreamers at UCF, a registered student organization at UCF, and a UCF finance major, was also present.

At the beginning of the forum, Ortiz mentioned important dates for recipients to remember.

Recipients should renew their DACA by Oct. 5 to receive two more years of protection, he said.

“If your DACA expires after March 6 of next year you are not allowed to renew anymore, but if it expires before that, then you are given the chance to renew again for the two more years that DACA gives you protection,” Ortiz said.

Kevin Ortiz, president of Dreamers at UCF and mediator of the forum. Dreamers at UCF Forum, Sept. 27, 2017. Photo by Melanie Ararat.

The term “Dreamers” describes young people who qualified for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act, that failed to pass in 2010, according to America’s Voice (AV), an organization that fights to reform immigration policy.

Similar to the DACA program, the DREAM Act was legislation introduced in 2001 meant to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented young people brought to the United States. Those that qualified for the DREAM Act are eligible for the DACA program, AV’s website states.

To be a DACA recipient, individuals must: be under the age of 31 as of June 2012; came to the United States before or on their 16th birthday; continuously resided in the United States; be in the United States during the time of their DACA request; had no lawful immigration status in June 2012; be a student, have a high school diploma, GED or be an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces or Coast Guard; and cannot be convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanors, according to a 2017 USCIS, report.

With 800,000 DACA recipients, the removal of the program can greatly impact our country economically as the United States invested in the recipients by providing education and employment, Turcu said.

“The country will lose 800,000 hard-working people,” Turcu said.

Opponents of the program argue it encourages illegal entry into the United States, and without the program to fall back on, illegal immigration will be reduced, Turcu said.

“[Removing the program] creates a precedent that encourages people to follow the law,”  she said.

Those opposed to DACA argue that American citizens are the top priority, and giving incentives to illegal immigrants takes opportunities away from Americans.

“I look forward to working [with Democrats and Republicans] in Congress to address immigration reform in a way that puts hardworking citizens of our country 1st,” a Sept. 5 tweet from Trump reads. 

Dreamers at UCF Forum, Sept. 27, 2017. Photo by Melanie Ararat.

Although the stability of the program is uncertain, past accomplishments were acknowledged at the forum.

“We are in a better situation than we were back in the day, but now we’re about to get into a situation that might be just as bad as back then,” Ortiz said.

Turcu has written USCIS on behalf of her students after some got emotional in her office.

Students say they cannot focus on school or work because they are in constant fear, Turcu said.

“From the beginning, we knew that DACA was temporary. We knew that, and we had that on our plates, but since they decided to end DACA, and there’s a whole six-month period, it put us in a state of anxiety,” Lauro said.

“Right now we want to be safe and [we want] certainty for our future,” Caudillo said.

UCF students who are DACA recipients can expect support from the university.

“They are not giving out our information, so if a [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agent comes to campus unless they have a warrant they’re not going to give out our information,” Soriano said.

“They assured us that we are safe. We are in a safe space right now, and I like that,” he said.

Despite the verbal support, nothing concrete has been established.

Students are seeking reassurance. The UCF Creed includes “community,” and that’s what these students are looking for.

“I know UCF stands with us,” Ortiz said.

Joining more than 700 higher-education institutions, UCF President John C. Hitt signed a statement of support in Nov. 2016 started by Pomona College in Claremont, California. The statement originated after the 2016 election, during a time of uncertainty for the DACA program, Patty Vest, Associate Director of News at Pomona College, said.

“College and university presidents continue to contact Pomona to sign the statement supporting DACA as ‘both a moral imperative and a national necessity,'” Vest said.

But Ortiz said Hitt could do more.

“They have shown support, but we haven’t seen an official statement or some kind of written letter from [Hitt] himself addressing this situation.”