For Chen, DACA repeal hits close to home

November 27, 2017 — by Sherrie Shen and Elicia Ye

Luca and Tori are pseudonyms used to protect the identity of the sources.

When President Donald Trump announced in September that he would wind down the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program starting next March, Economics/AP Government and Psychology teacher Hana Chen was stunned and distressed.

Chen was teaching at Leadership Public Schools-San Jose (LPS San Jose), a small charter school in East Side San Jose, when the act went into effect under the Obama administration.

DACA was formed through executive order under Obama in 2012 and allows Dreamers — those who come to the U.S. illegally as minors — to be protected from immediate deportation.

According to The Washington Post, the Department of Homeland Security revealed that the 690,000 Dreamers could face deportation once their work permits expire. From August 2012, when the program began, through March 2017, nearly 800,000 immigrants had been granted DACA status, according to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

While at LPS San Jose, Chen helped undocumented students to apply for DACA status.

For her students, the most terrifying part of the application process was often the first stage: filling out the paperwork.

In doing so, undocumented students exposed their names, identities and residences, making them vulnerable to potential deportations.

Because Chen, along with teachers at her previous school, wasn’t legally authorized to process the students’ applications, an immigration attorney was hired to work with families to enroll them into the DACA program.

“All we did was help the families feel more comfortable with the process,” Chen said. “Our school gave them information on what it was, offered translation and reassured them it wasn’t an open invitation for deportation, which was something a lot of families are concerned about.”

But as undocumented immigrants face increased opposition in going to college and getting jobs, Chen understands the uncertainty and fear her former students experience on a day to day basis.

One of her students, Luca, who graduated from UC Davis this June, is starting his master’s degree program at San Jose State University. Like many Dreamers, he made his fair share of sacrifices in his quest for his education.

Luca arrived in the U.S. alone at age 15 in 2010, leaving behind his parents and brothers in Mexico. As senior year of high school approached, he faced the choice of either attending college or returning to Mexico to stay with his parents. Since he chose to attend UC Davis, visiting his family Mexico wasn’t feasible — DACA alone doesn’t let recipients leave and return to the country freely.

After five years of not seeing his parents and brothers, Luca was able to set up a GoFundMe page to raise enough money to fly his family in for his college graduation. A friend of his, a film student at UC Davis, made and posted a film on Facebook about Luca’s family reunion.

At this point, Chen said she isn’t sure if her former student will go back to Mexico for fear of not being able to return here. Tori, another of Chen’s students who applied to the Dream Act, came to the U.S. with a visa in 2001 at the age of 7.

After the school introduced the benefits of the Dream Act to undocumented immigrants, Tori told her parents she wanted to apply in order to continue her education in the U.S., even with the risks of providing information to the government.

During the process, Tori confided in Chen, who also pushed her to finish her paperwork.

In retrospect, Tori is glad that she applied to the Dream Act since it opened countless doors for her — and she cannot imagine life without it.

Without the Dream Act, Tori said she wouldn’t be working as a behavioral therapist for kids with autism, pursuing an education in school, applying to other jobs or receiving any financial aid. Although Dreamers receive limited financial aid, Tori couldn’t imagine how much more money she would have to pay for tuition if she hadn’t been granted DACA status.

In addition, if DACA is terminated, students like Tori would have their education halted halfway.

“I am close to getting my degree and really want to finish, but my hard work won’t matter to individuals because I don’t have the proper documentation,” Tori said.

However, with the influx of anti-immigrant policies under the Trump administration, undocumented immigrants like Tori are worried that the government will end the act that sparked their dream in the U.S. In order for the program to continue, Congress will need to pass comprehensive legislation to protect current Dreamers by March.

Although Tori said “it broke her heart” when she heard about what Trump wanted to do, she remains hopeful.

“We will keep fighting and we will unite,” Tori said. “No borders and no papers are ever going to stop us.”


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