BEFORE last Tuesday, Daniela Rodriguez had a solid career path.
The Armstrong State University senior has one more semester left before she earns her degree in Psychology and envisioned herself counseling refugees and rape victims. But now that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy will be repealed, Rodriguez will have to put her dreams of helping others on hold.
“I had hoped that after graduation that I would get my Masters’ degree,” says 23 year-old Mexico native whose parents brought her to the U.S. over a decade ago.
“Now I won’t even be able to work at all. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next six months. I’m in limbo.”
Created by the Obama administration, DACA deferred deportation and granted a temporary right to study, work and live in the U.S. to certain young people without proper immigration documentation. Approval to the program required a rigorous vetting process and enrollment in school or the armed forces, and 800,000 young people have been accepted by the program since 2012.
On Tuesday, Sept, 5, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration would no longer accept new applications for DACA and dissolve the program completely by March 2018, erasing the legal status of current enrollees who will face possible deportation. Those affected are mostly from Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras, though most have never seen those countries since they were small children.
“It was not our decision to come here, but we are going to school, working, trying to make our own opportunities,” laments Rodriguez. “This is home.”
Rodriguez and other members of the Savannah Undocumented Youth Alliance (SUYA) traveled to Atlanta on Labor Day to protest the announcement. They joined several hundred other demonstrators at the Atlanta City Detention Center, the main office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Some carried signs emblazoned with “Defend DACA” while others chanted “Undocumented, Unafraid” and “Protect our Dreams.”
“It was the biggest rally I’ve seen for this issue,” she reports. “It’s good to know that we have so many allies.”
Georgia is home to about 24,000 DACA enrollees who are all currently full-time students or have full-time jobs per the program requirements. They’re called “dreamers” after the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM) still pending in Congress.
Since the Tuesday’s announcement, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed tweeted his continuing support of DACA, as did Rep. Hank Johnson of the state’s Fourth District.
“By rescinding DACA, President Trump is sending a clear and unambiguous message to his Steve Bannon-alt right supporters that they have a friend in the White House,” wrote Johnson in a statement released by his office.
“This rescission is consistent with President Trump’s despicable pardoning of convicted civil rights violator Sheriff Joe Arpaio, which came on the heels of the President’s reference to Nazi, Klan and alt-right sympathizers in Charlottesville as ‘good people.’ President Trump did the wrong thing in failing to protect our DACA youth, and history will judge him harshly. Congress must now move immediately to pass legislation that protects these courageous, patriotic DREAMers.”
The Georgia chapter of the ACLU promised that it is not giving up the fight to protect the rights of DACA youth.
“The ACLU of Georgia will continue to stand with...all Dreamers who have earned the right to live and work in the country where they grew up and continue to call home,” the organization said on its website.
SUYA leader Rodriguez isn’t giving up either.
“I’m still getting up and going to class every day,” she says.
“I feel that I have a lot to contribute to my community and my country, and I want to do that more than anything.”