“Don’t turn this dream into a nightmare.”
UCF students and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program supporters signed a banner with this message during a Rally for Dreamers event at UCF’s Student Union Thursday afternoon.
The event featured speeches from DACA recipients and allies, solidarity chants and a march around UCF’s campus from the Student Union to Millican Hall.
The College Democrats at UCF hosted the rally in light of the Trump administration’s Sept. 5 announcement for the repeal or revision of DACA, according to the Facebook event page.
Instituted in 2012 by former President Barack Obama, DACA is a program that allows young, undocumented immigrants who meet specific criteria to apply for two-year visas allowing them to work and attend school in the United States without fear of deportation.
“These people are your friends, your co-workers and your significant others. This month, Trump made the cruel decision to rescind this Obama-era policy,” Devi Mody, College Democrats at UCF president and UCF senior double majoring in criminal justice and film, said.
The program affects approximately 800,000 immigrants in the United States. Oct. 5. is the final renewal deadline for DACA recipients whose visas expire before March 5, 2018.
“He’s giving Congress just six months to figure out legislation, so we are putting pressure on you, Congress. Do your jobs and figure out a way to protect the 800,000 Americans who have given so much to this country,” Mody, 22, said.
One of those Americans is Sofia Garduno, 18, the secretary for College Democrats at UCF. Although she is unable to vote as a DACA recipient, she has worked on political campaigns and believes in the importance of advocating for others, she said.
“I’m not just a case file,” Garduno, a UCF sophomore and political science major, said. “I’m not just somebody that can be ignored, and I will speak up if I have to.
“I continuously get involved with these incredible candidates, and I just do this in the hope that even though I can’t vote, and I can’t really do much legally, I want others to be able to have the voice that I don’t.”
Several other UCF organizations attended the rally.
Dreamers at UCF, YAYA News, the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) and the National Organization for Women (NOW) were among the groups that voiced support for DACA recipients and stood in solidarity at the march.
Kevin Ortiz, president of Dreamers at UCF and a UCF senior finance major, spoke at the rally and encouraged supporters to contact lawmakers.
“Like we said, the call to action is to push for legislation, to reach out to your congressmen, to reach out to your senators and tell them to support a [Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act)] that provides a pathway to citizenship for these kids who have been here for so long. Who know nothing else but this country,” Ortiz, 26, said.
Florida House District 49 Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D) and Florida House District 48 Rep. Amy Mercado (D) also attended the rally in support of DACA recipients.
“We have to fight, and we can’t just fight with rhetoric and harsh words,” Guillermo Smith said. “We have to understand the facts. We have to communicate to our friends and neighbors that DACA students are taxpayers.
“They are hardworking. They are taking care of their families.They are stepping up and they are taking care of their communities. They are just as American as the rest of us, only without the papers.”
Mercado said legislation is in the works at the state level to protect DACA recipients and individuals with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). She voiced her intent to continue advocating for DACA recipients.
“I not only get to stand with you and support you, but I will fight for your rights,” she said. “And your right in Tallahassee, for me, means your right to finish your education, your right to stay here, your right to continue working, and your right to be at peace and not attacked.”
Ortiz said he has been able to work and attend UCF because of DACA.
Ortiz, then 12, and his family entered the United States by crossing the border between Mexico and Arizona, he said.
After graduating high school in 2008, he put his college plans on hold until DACA gave him the opportunity to work, drive and attend school.
At the rally, he outlined the purpose of Dreamers at UCF. The group hosted a DACA forum Wednesday to answer questions about the program and current challenges recipients could face in the wake of legislative changes.
“Our goals are very simple,” Ortiz said. “One is to create a safe place at the university for any undocumented student, any student who has temporary protection status, anyone who feels threatened by what’s going on in the world today.
“The second goal is to build that bridge between the faculty, the administration and the students. And then the third goal is the advocacy portion and the creation of a permanent solution to this problem.”
Although UCF President John C. Hitt joined more than 700 higher-education institutions by signing a statement of support for DACA recipients in Nov. 2016, those at the rally sought more explicit support.
Dreamers at UCF called on Hitt and the school administration to formally announce their support for the UCF DACA population in writing and make it known that the school will guarantee protection and safety for students.
In the meantime, DACA recipients and allies are standing firm and supporting students, workers and families whose futures could be greatly affected.
Karen Caudillo, a UCF junior and international relations major, reiterated this call to action.
Caudillo, 21, an advocate for the DREAM Act and a DACA student who has been in the United States since she was 4 years old, wants to continue pursuing her interests without fear of deportation.
“Every day, I’m out here advocating along with our representatives every day. I just want education, not deportation,” Caudillo said.
“I just want to work. I’m a small business owner, I pay taxes, I contribute to this school, to my community. And we’re here to stay. With our friends, with all of you, we’re going to keep fighting.”
While the future of DACA recipients is tinged with uncertainty, individuals such as Melani Candia, 24, a UCF junior majoring in special education and a DACA recipient, are inspired by the current wave of activism in the United States.
“I’m terrified, and a lot of others are [too], but I’m inspired by the fact that people are standing up not just for DACA, but for other movements as well, like Black Lives Matter and women’s rights,” Candia said.
“We remember that, and we want to be there for them too, so it’s a really good progressive time for this country.”