Courtesy Photo (Larry Salinas)

Congressmen speak with DACA students

With many still questioning the future of immigration reform, two congressmen came to Fresno State last week to speak face-to-face with undocumented students at the center of a debate that seeks to provide some relief for young immigrants.

Rep. David Valadao and Rep. Jim Costa, a Fresno State alumnus, met with students and Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro last week in separate meetings. They spoke with students who have gotten temporary relief from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The outcome of that program is being debated by Congress after President Donald Trump ordered it to be rescinded last fall.

Dream Success Center coordinator Gaby Encinas and Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Dr. Frank Lamas also met with the representatives.

“The congressmen wanted to hear from Fresno State’s students,” Encinas said. “To learn about their stories and [life] experiences, and most importantly how their lives have been affected by DACA and the impact of not having a legislative solution to DACA.”

Trump is proposing a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, while demanding that Democrats support $25 billion for border security, including his proposed border wall, and strict new limits on legal immigration.

The 1.8-million figure would go well beyond the nearly 700,000 immigrants currently covered by the Obama administration’s DACA program, expanding the protections primarily to cover people who were eligible for DACA but did not apply.

The White House designed that element of the plan in hopes that it would provide a strong enticement for Democrats. But it quickly generated opposition from some Republican conservatives.

The president staged an impromptu 15-minute news conference last week at which he said he had just written “something out” that included a path to citizenship for Dreamers that would take 10 to 12 years.

A total 10 students were present at the Fresno State meetings hosted by the U.S. representatives last week, representing the roughly 1,000 DACA students enrolled at Fresno State.

Encinas said that although there are ongoing discussions on a solution for DACA, the congressmen’s primary goal was to listen to what the students had to say.

“These meetings were important because it is our responsibility to amplify the voices of our DACA students when many of them feel fearful to come forward,” Encinas said.

Valadao, who has more than 7,000 DACA recipients in his district, discussed the vital role they play as active workers and students to society. He added that DACA recipients “give far more than they take.”

“With the deadline approaching, it is more important than ever that Congress comes together to codify the DACA program and allow these young people to continue to live in the United States — the only home they know,” Valadao stated in a news release after the meeting.

Costa, whose meeting was after Valadao’s, also heard the stories of the undocumented students as they shared their experience of coming to the U.S. and growing up in the country.

“Living with this uncertainty — it’s not right, it’s unfair, and it’s outrageous,” Costa told the students. “My grandparents immigrated to this country and faced many of the same challenges you do. My story, your story, the American story is the story of immigrants.”

Genoveva Vivar, a senior double-majoring in accounting and Spanish, shared her story with Costa.

She said she usually does not share her story as a DACA student, but did so after realizing the impact it could make for others.

“Knowing that if by me sharing my story and my experiences I can make a difference, then I will do so,” Vivar said. “I shouldn’t fear sharing my story because I am not a criminal so I should rather empower my experiences and struggles.”

In a statement to The Collegian, Castro stressed the important role DACA students play as leaders when they graduate from Fresno State.

“It’s important that our elected officials understand the contributions of our Dreamers, the important role they play in our communities and the uncertainty they and their families face on a daily basis,” Castro said.

Encinas, who works hands-on with DACA students at Fresno State, said continuing discussions over immigration with students as well as lawmakers is important for finding a solution.

“We work closely with our campus community, and we always try to advocate on their behalf and refer them to on-and-off campus resources,” Encinas said. “The message is always reach out, never feel like you are alone.”

She also stated that students who are in this situation should focus on advancing in their education with the support of those around them.  

“Most importantly we want them to rely on their support system, remain hopeful and graduate from Fresno State,” Encinas said. “We continue to [speak] with our legislative leaders.”

Brian Bennet and Lisa Mascaro from Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this story.