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DACA students share experiences at panel event


The Youth Empowerment Alliance held a panel discussion Aug. 8 to discuss issues pertinent to undocumented immigrants and DACA recipients. | Courtesy of YEA

When political science junior Maria Treviño-Rodriguez’s parents brought her from Mexico to the United States as a one-year-old, they had one goal in mind: provide their daughter with the best education possible.

Treviño-Rodriguez spoke about her personal story at an Aug. 8 panel discussion on undocumented immigrants organized by UH’s Youth Empowerment Alliance chapter and the Urban Experience Program.

My mom and dad knew that Mexico wasn’t investing enough in their public education,” she said. “There’s a lack of resources and books, and teachers aren’t getting paid enough so they don’t care.”

Treviño-Rodriguez, the vice president of YEA, spent most of her education after third grade attending public schools she wasn’t zoned to. Her parents made the commute in an effort to ensure she had Gifted and Talented and Vangaurd programs available to her, Treviño-Rodriguez said.

As a teenager she attended Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions, eventually graduating with a President’s Scholarship — an award described by the Department of Education as “one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students.”

Scholarship in hand, Treviño-Rodriguez planned to attend New York University, but while applying for the student loans needed to cover the rest of her tuition, she discovered the truth about her immigration status.

“I started to question my mother about why we didn’t have a social security number, and she informed me that my father had applied for residency through his mother, who is a citizen, and we had still been waiting,” Treviño-Rodriguez said.

They’ve been waiting for 20 years.

“My mother and father could have both gone to college in Mexico, or at least still be seeing their families,” Treviño-Rodriguez said.

Wait times like those experienced by her family are common, with it often taking upwards of 20 years for Mexican immigrants to obtain citizenship, according to Politico.

“It’s just bureaucracy — something that many conservatives hate — that is making people undocumented and that is funneling people into these immigration systems,” Treviño-Rodriguez said.

Unable to attend NYU, Treviño-Rodriguez successfully applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program and spent her first year after high school working on a political campaign, aiming to give driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. In 2014, she published an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle entitled “Mr. Abbott, stop trying to tear my family apart.”

DACA was passed in 2012 under President Obama and provided certain teenagers and adults brought into the United States as children the ability to legally work and live in the country. According to statistics provided by the Department of Homeland Security, nearly 800,000 people have been granted DACA since 2012.

While Treviño-Rodriguez’s vocal presence has made her a direct target for conservative media outlets such as Breitbart, UH YEA president Maria Gonzalez-Treviño said during the 2016 presidential election that she faced harassment from fellow classmates.

“This person would harass me every day, telling me that Donald Trump is going to win, he’s going to deport you,” Gonzalez-Treviño said. “With (Trump’s) character and behavior, it leads others to follow in his steps.”

Members from YEA said that negative rhetoric during the campaign and fears in the immigrant community have resulted in a lower attendance at meetings by undocumented students. They have, however, seen a rise in support of students from other students attending events.

At the Aug. 8 panel event, Treviño-Rodriguez joined Gonzalez-Treviño and two other YEA members to speak about their experiences as DACA recipients and provide information for allies.

Since DACA was passed, it has faced pushback from several Republican states, including Texas, a coalition of which have given Trump an ultimatum to begin rescinding DACA by Sept. 5, or they would be taking the issue to court.

“DACA exists today because it’s understood that dreamers were brought here when they were young children and have grown as Americans,” Treviño-Rodriguez said. “That’s a lot of social capital that you’re just getting rid of.”

The ending of DACA could have major economic impacts, she said, as those with it tend to be the main providers for their families, often working for less than the minimum wage because of their legal status.

With SB4, the “sanctuary cities” bill passed earlier this year, coming into effect Sept. 1, the looming Sept. 5 deadline would be a second blow for the undocumented community, YEA said.

In preparation for SB4 and the potential ending of the DACA program, YEA has been working with groups like the Urban Experience Program and United We Dream in an effort to educate undocumented immigrants and students on their rights. They also teach allies how they can support undocumented immigrants.

“DACA wasn’t given to us, we fought for it,” Gonzalez-Treviño said. “If it gets taken away, we’re going to fight for something better, because there’s no going back to the shadows.”

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