UCF town hall meeting addresses student concerns about DACA, SNAP benefits

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., answer student questions. Town hall meeting, Oct. 23, 2017. Photo by Elisa Ramirez.

A panel of members from the U.S. House of Representatives answered students’ questions about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals administrative program, also known as DACA, at a UCF town hall meeting Monday morning.

The meeting featured U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla.

About 30 people gathered in the Cape Florida Ballroom in the Student Union on UCF’s main campus for the meeting.

Although students asked about pedestrian safety on Alafaya Trail, food assistance programs and bus transportation, the fate of DACA recipients was the main topic.

Established by former President Barack Obama in 2012, 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.

A UCF industrial engineering major from Ecuador, who claimed to be a DACA recipient, fought back tears as he expressed concerns about the uncertainty of the program.

Soto responded with reassurance and encouragement.

“Telling your stories is what you can do to help us, and for the allies in here, standing in solidarity is what you can do,” Soto said.

Murphy was also asked about her vote in favor of the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act.

The bill prohibits immigrants who are criminal gang members or are involved in gang-related activities from entering the United States and allows for detainment and deportation of those who are in the United States, according to the bill’s summary.

Additionally, the bill bars criminal gang members from receiving immigration benefits such as temporary protected status, according to the same source.

DACA student asks U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy about a bill that she voted for. Town Hall meeting Oct. 23, 2017. Photo by Elisa Ramirez.

Murphy defended her support of the bill, saying the burden of proof was “high enough.”

“I sought the advice of prosecutors and folks that have been involved in cases like that,” Murphy said. “They say that the burden of proof is actually quite high.”

A criminal gang is defined as a group that has a primary purpose to commit criminal offenses, has actively committed offenses within the past five years and consists of five or more people, according to the bill’s summary.

Offenses could range from felony drug offenses and helping illegal immigrants enter the United States to crimes of violence and money laundering, according to the summary.

“Let me say this, I’m an immigrant,” Murphy said. “However, I believe in a society that has law and order and that we have to protect all of our community that’s here, and so if you are involved with a gang that is trying to sow disorder in our communities and cause harm to our fellow neighbors, then I do believe that the law should provide [a] pathway that deals with those extreme circumstances.”

Students also expressed gratitude for grants issued by the representatives.

One student acknowledged Murphy’s issue of a $11 million grant to advance housing and urban development. Announced on Oct. 14, the grant will create more affordable housing, reduce homelessness and revitalize communities, according to Murphy’s official website.

The Federal Highway Administration issued a grant of nearly $12 million to the Florida Department of Transportation, MetroPlan Orlando and UCF to promote traffic safety on streets similar to Alafaya Trail through the use of “intelligent transportation technologies.”

That grant, which was issued issued Oct. 5, is meant to make transportation safer for drivers and pedestrians alike, according to Murphy’s official website.

Some students questioned current bus transportation, and Murphy quickly responded by saying there was a chance for future investments for infrastructure.

Officials in the White House are working on transportation plans with the National Economic Counsel’s Director for Transportation and Infrastructure, she said.

“I wish I had a crystal ball to tell you whether or not it is going to advance, but in general, the White House is looking at making about $200 billion in direct federal investments into transportation and infrastructure,” Murphy said.

A student also advocated against the Food Safety Modernization Act,which would cut benefits from the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities, according to the Food and Nutrition Service website.

Soto agreed with the concern about SNAP.

“One of the biggest misconceived notions, to put it lightly, is that there’s somehow all these people who are able-bodied adults, not working and getting food stamps,” Soto said.

Able-bodied adults with children, abbreviated ABAWDs, can only get three months of food stamps every three years, he said.

“Everybody else who’s on there, that’s about eight, nine percent of the program — we’re talking about seniors, we’re talking about children, we’re talking about persons with disabilities,” Soto said. “When we’re talking about potential cuts from that program, that’s who it’s going to get.”