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

The students, invited by the bipartisan political organization, are speaking with members of Congress, congressional staff, lobbyists and the media between Nov. 15 and 17, urging the passage of federal legislation that will legalize protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. Some students will be sharing personal stories about the challenges of being an undocumented youth and how they have benefited from DACA.

“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 is participating in this week’s advocacy.

“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. 

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

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 this week’s “fly-in” and funded participants’ travel, lodging and food expenses.

Jacky Neri Arias, the director of Dominican’s Center for Cultural Liberation who helped students prepare for the trip, said she is proud of the brave journey they are undertaking.

“It’s a professional goal of mine to support undocumented students, but it’s also personal because I was once an undocumented college student myself,” Arias said. “It’s a moment of pride in my career to travel with the students and coach them to advocate for something that changed my life.”

Arias is also an advocate for immigrant student support at Dominican, including increased funding for student programs, legal counsel and emergency expenses for students who cannot work due to their immigration status.