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Los Angeles DACA students fear deportation but remain hopeful they can pursue their college dreams

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | November 22, 2016

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Carolina Martínez and Kathia García, beneficiaries of DACA.

Carolina Martínez and Kathia García, beneficiaries of DACA.

Undocumented students, known as “Dreamers,” are fearful about their future in this country under the new Trump administration. Thousands of DACA beneficiaries live with the knowledge that the program that has protected them from deportation could end, but they are not ready to give up on their dream of achieving a college education.

Kathia García, who was born in Guerrero, Mexico, and came to the United States at a young age without documents, has been a DACA recipient since 2012. DACA has protected her from deportation and allowed her to have a work permit and a social security number, but most importantly for her, it gave her the opportunity to continue with her higher education.

After attending Glendale Community College, García graduated from California State University Los Angeles (CSULA) with a degree in sociology. She strongly believes that legal status should not deter anyone’s dream of going to college.

“I was always worried about what I was going to do when I finish college. I was very scared, but I always knew I had to continue with my education,” the Lincoln High School graduate said. “With DACA I was able to apply for a job and I was able to start making plans for the future.”

• Read more: Students fear Trump’s vow to end DACA could mean deportations — and an end to their college dreams

That future has become uncertain for DACA beneficiaries, following President-elect Donald Trump’s statements about deporting 3 million undocumented immigrants and ending the DACA program.

Luis Pérez, director of legal services at CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles), urgently asked DACA recipients on Monday to renew their benefits by Dec. 19, when the renewal process expires for current recipients along with their immigration relief, losing protection from possible deportation.

“If your DACA is going to expire in 2017, they should renew it now. We believe that the first months of Trump’s presidency will be the most difficult. Whatever happens, they will be in a better position if they have renewed DACA,” he said at a news conference.

For those who plan to apply for DACA benefits for the first time, Pérez recommended waiting until Trump begins his administration to see what options they have.

García understands there are enough reasons to be afraid, but she believes that younger students, those who are still in high school, “must turn that fear into something that is productive to help the community, remain together. We cannot hide, that’s not the solution. It’s better to renew the DACA for as long as we can keep it,” she said.

She now remembers she was lucky during her college years, she felt safe and enjoyed nearly all the same rights as other students, except for the fact that as a DACA student she wasn’t eligible to apply for financial aid.

The DACA program came into effect through an executive order from President Barack Obama in 2012, which extended immigration relief for young immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16, were attending or graduated from high school and had no criminal record.

García, who currently works for an after-school program with the work permit she received through DACA, feels confident that undocumented students in California will be able to continue with their work and education thanks to state laws such as AB540 and the California Dream Act. “I think in California they will continue to be protected and will be able to go to college despite new immigration laws that can be implemented at a federal level with the new administration,” she said.

According to her personal experience with other undocumented students, very few of them want to leave the Golden State to pursue higher education in other states anyway, where such legislation doesn’t exist. Fear is widespread across the country, where DACA has benefited about 800,000 young people of whom nearly half live in California.

“There’s a lot of fear of going to schools in other states where there are no pro-immigrant laws, and that is why many remain in California,” said García, who said her college dream has already been fulfilled but that she will not rest until more young undocumented students can achieve it too.

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