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Students advocate for DACA on Capitol Hill

Five Dominican University students were among a contingent of college students from across the country who recently advocated in Washington, D.C. for Congressional action to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Organized by the bipartisan political organization, the “fly-in,” held Nov. 15-17 at Capitol Hill, drew undocumented students from around the country urging the Senate to pass federal legislation that will legalize protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.

Dominican students spoke formally and informally with leaders like Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Illinois Congressmen Chuy Garcia and Brad Schneider, and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“They were really transformed,” Jacky Neri Arias, director of Dominican’s Center for Cultural Liberation, said of the five students who volunteered to share their personal stories of living undocumented and the explain the need for DACA to continue. “The students gained a visible confidence and pride. They also gained advocacy skills for their communities and language they may have not had before.”

The students also joined a press conference led by Durbin and attended by other DACA supporters, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“I want to see actual change — for them to actually hear us out, listen to us, and follow through with what we expect of them,” said David Avila, a first-year student who moved to the U.S. at the age of four and participated in Washington fly-in.

“Right now, the courts have said DACA is an illegal program, but nothing is being done to legalize it,” added fellow student Tatiana Vasquez, who has lived in the U.S. since she was 11 months old and recalled watching a neighborhood raid by Immigration and Custom Enforcement officers while waiting for her school bus as a child.

“If we didn’t have DACA, most of us wouldn’t be able to study or work in the places we call home,” she added.

On Oct. 5, the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling that the DACA program is illegal, but those already enrolled in the program will be able to renew their status at this time. The federal appeals court sent the case back to the Texas District Court, which is tasked with considering a new regulation enacted by the Department of Homeland Security in August to preserve DACA for eligible noncitizens.

Proponents of DACA, like, believe the only way to enshrine protections and a path to citizenship for DACA-eligible individuals is for Congress to pass permanent legislation and make improvements to what is already in place. advocates for meaningful reforms in immigration and criminal justice. It organized the November fly-in to Capitol Hill and funded participants’ travel, lodging and food expenses.

In addition to meeting federal lawmakers, Dominican students met immigration activists who have been advocating for reforms since the early 2000s, Arias said.

Arias noted that while the Dominican students experienced a supportive environment while in Washington, some undocumented young adults who arrived from other states found the legislators of their home states less receptive.

“Some of their congresspeople refused to meet with them at all,” she said.

While advocates urge the Senate to pass DACA protections in the aftermath of the recent 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling, this is just the beginning, Arias said.

“If something does pass it will be good news for our students, but I don’t think we’re anywhere near comprehensive immigration reform,” Arias said.