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DACA STUDENTS SPEAK OUT Seven PRHS recipients share stories at evening forum

por Mason Seden-Hansen, Editor de administración

Seven seniors who are affected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program spoke at a forum on Feb. 28, telling their stories to nearly 150 people in attendance. As undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. between the ages of eleven months and six years, Itzel Lopez, Olga Lopez, Beatriz Lopez, Victor Jimenez, Dainzu Carillo, Diana Gonzalez, and Alejandra Nuñez delivered an honest perspective to the topic that has occupied Congress, protests, and headlines in recent months.

“If I weren’t standing here telling my story with fellow peers, would you know that I was ‘illegal’? Would you know that I am a Dreamer? Would you know that I was brought as an 11-month-old baby? Would you have know that I am fighting not to break down in tears because I don’t know what is going to happen with my status? Or would you smile at me as we passed each other on the sidewalk just like you would anybody else?” Itzel Lopez asked to a crowd moved to tears.

The forum was attended by Steve Martin, mayor of Paso Robles, Greg Haas, district representative for Congressman Salud Carbajal, Joel Peterson, and Matthew McClish, school board members. Francisco Ramirez, President of the Hispanic Business Association and Bill Ostrander, Candidate for State Assembly, and many other parents, teachers, and community members also sat in the audience.

MI VOZ: Seven DACA recipients spoke to a crowd of more than 150 attendees in Bearcat Hall on Feb. 28. Seniors Alejandra Nunez (left) and Beatriz Lopez (right) were two of the seven to speak about their life experiences.

The forum occurred as DACA recipients faced a Mar. 5 termination of protection by the Trump administration, leading to months of immigration talks in congress that ultimately produced no legislation. DACA arose originally from the 2012 executive order by President Barack Obama that protected immigrants who had arrived in the U.S. as children.

Despite President Trump’s intentions, three federal judges in California, New York, and Maryland have ruled the program could not be eliminated. However, the fate of 800,000 DREAMers, including over 150 Bearcats, remains uncertain. No new Dreamers are currently being processed, although Dreamers who are already in the system can, for now, continue to get extensions, meaning they can apply to college and work.

The speakers at the forum each told stories from their lives growing up in the U.S. for almost all of their lives, believing in the American Dream.

Jimenez recalled a hot summer day in 2011 when his father took him to work remodeling a Paso residence.

“The owner had a two story house, with nice cars, a pool, a big backyard, and a dog as a pet. What was I doing? My dad and I were painting the tile floor of his backyard. I didn’t like it one bit. I was jealous. My family lived in a two bedroom apartment. My dad knew what I was feeling and asked me, ‘What do you prefer? To be working outside with the sun on your back? Or to be working in your office with air conditioning, relaxed, and without having a boss looking over your shoulder all the time and telling you what to do?’ That was when I realized what people meant by the Land of the Dreams...where anything is possible with hard work and dedication,” Jimenez said.

Senior Olga Lopez (left) Senior Diana Gonzalez (right)

The DREAMers spoke about the difficulty of not having the full rights of a citizen and being considered a foreigner in the country they considered home.

“In high school I tried to take some classes at Cuesta over summer... they told me I couldn’t because I don’t have a social security number. My dad also told me it would be hard to get a job, get scholarships, and go to college [because of my status]. It hit me hard, and I realized how limited I am,” Carillo said.

Senior Itzel Jaimes Lopez (left) Senior Dainzu Carillo (right)

A Cuesta representative clarified that Cuesta now has a policy that does not exclude local students without legal status.

DREAMers have grappled with the fact that their parents hadn’t brought them across the border young enough to be citizens.

“At first when I found out I was undocumented and so limited, I was frustrated with my mom...I asked her, ‘Why couldn’t you pass the border earlier when you were still pregnant, so at least I’d be born here?’ She told me she really wanted to but was too scared of what might have happened to her and to me. As time passed by, I understood,” Carillo said.

Senior Victor Jimenez

The dangers of being undocumented made life more challenging for DREAMer students. Even as they received tenuous protection, their loved ones often did not.

“There was always the worry of what would happen if my parents and I were to get taken by ICE. Once I received DACA status, I stopped being as afraid. But the worry of my parents being taken never left...The fear got worse last August, when ICE officers took my boyfriend’s dad while they were visiting family in San Diego. My dad has brothers in Southern California by the border. What if one day while visiting my uncles, ICE were to apprehend us?” Itzel Lopez said.

The DREAMers talked about the strength they had found, and that they stayed pursued their dreams even with uncertain futures.

“I will not stand in the shadows any longer. I am here to give a voice to those who are afraid like my parents,” Itzel Lopez said.

“Living in a state of fear is really not an option for us DACA students. We know that we have to put ourselves out there in order succeed. We know that things are not handed to us, but we deserve the right to an opportunity for an education. When Crimson asked me to tell my story in a video, I said yes because I believe that staying silent is not doing us any better,” Gonzalez said.

WELCOME: Pamphlets and brochures were given to attendees upon entering the event. Nunez would meet those who would enter and hand them a "Support DACA Students" ribbon.

This panel has gone far in their education. Gonzalez, like many of her fellow speakers, is an AP student and has been accepted at Cal State campuses.

DACA is available to those who arrived in the U.S. before 2007 at the age of 16 or younger, are currently attending high school or are high school graduates, have continuously resided in the U.S. since 2007 and have not made felony or significant misdemeanor offenses.

The forum was organized by the PRHS Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A.), the PRHS Progressive Club, and Crimson Newsmagazine. Its organization was spearheaded by Government and Modern World History Teacher Geof Land, and was MC’d by Crimson’s Editor-in-Chief, PRHS Progressive Club secretary, and senior Valeria Cisneros.

UNITY: Food was provided for the 150 attendees. AP Literature teacher, Aaron Cantrell, donated donuts made by Twisted & Glazed.

“[Helping organize this forum] is one of my proudest moments. History is being made...you guys are the future of this country,” Land said just before the forum.

ANA Mendoza Interview

Diana Gonzalez interview

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Mason Seden-Hansen Newsmagazine
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Photos by Ysabel Wulfing

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