More than 500 undocumented students and their advocates from around California gathered at Sacramento State on Monday to discuss how they could avoid deportation under the administration of the incoming president, Donald Trump.
Along with the 11 million undocumented immigrants throughout the country, another 750,000 young people granted temporary work permits under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program may be at risk, said Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented Filipino activist.
Vargas called Trump’s pick for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, “the most anti-immigrant senator in history ... Trump isn’t kidding around.”
“I’m not hiding from Donald Trump – I’m not ready to go down without a fight,” Vargas said in his keynote speech at Sacramento State’s Keeping the Dream Alive Summit.
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Vargas and other speakers, including a panel of undocumented and DACA students, called for all undocumented students to enroll in courses and get support from their peers at Sacramento State, which established one of California’s first Dreamer Resource Centers to help them get everything from scholarships and financial aid to legal advice.
“I am astounded by the resilience of these students and their willingness to come out,” said Resource Center program director Norma Mendoza, 27, herself a beneficiary of DACA, which allows undocumented students without criminal records to remain in the country with work permits. “They’ve been in the reactive mode, now they need to organize and start to plan. They have some weight. They have two months.”
Mendoza and others said these young people brought to the United States as children, often called dreamers, deserve a pardon from President Barack Obama, who authorized DACA in 2012 and promised that those who qualified would not face deportation. “Many folks were reluctant to apply. They said, ‘The government doesn’t know I’m here,’ and the government said ‘don’t worry,’ ” Mendoza said. “What’s to stop immigration from going after their files and coming to your home?”
Some members of Congress last week called on Obama to use pardons to try to keep DACA recipients from being deported, a strategy whose effectiveness legal experts debate. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Obama administration signaled that such a pardon would not be forthcoming because the White House does not believe it would confer legal status on the recipients.
In the absence of a pardon, the Obama administration and universities need to consider destroying all files of DACA recipients “so they cannot be found,” said Rhonda Rios Kravitz, CEO of Alianza, a Sacramento-based organization dedicated to immigration reform and the protection of undocumented students.
Universities and colleges must also provide more legal resources and set aside work-study money if Trump wipes out DACA and invalidates their work permits, Kravitz said. Sacramento State has about 1,000 undocumented students and students who have qualified for DACA.
Martha Ancajas, 20, a Sacramento State student from the Philippines, said she and other students don’t know what to expect. “I’m really afraid – I don’t know if I’m going to be here after Jan. 20,” she said. “We don’t know if sanctuary cities such as San Francisco can protect us. We need to call our congresspeople and let them know we are scared.”