In April, I wrote about a wonderful member of Student California Teachers Association, Vicente Rodriguez, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, activist, and recent graduate of the University of California, Riverside. Vicente answered some questions recently about how President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has affected him.
Vicente is concerned about the future for our nation’s 800,000 DACA recipients. Like him, these “DREAMers” remain committed to the United States—the only home they have ever known—despite the uncertainty they face. He joins me in urging you to call on Congress to pass the DREAM Act 2017 to safeguard the pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients.
Trump’s decision to end DACA means that DREAMers whose current DACA work authorization expires by March 5, 2018 now have only until October 5—less than two weeks—to apply for renewal. Please consider making a contribution to any of several funds and scholarships to help defray the $495 cost of DACA applications.
What’s the story behind your status as a DREAMer?
My mother and father have five children. The line-up goes: older brother, older sister, me, younger brother, and younger sister. All were born here, except for me. I won the lucky lotto of being born in Mexico.
My parents migrated to the United States in the ‘70s. In 1987 while my mother was pregnant with me, there was a family emergency in Mexico and my family had to return. Then, tah dah, I was born on Sept. 6, 1987. When I was nine months, my family returned to the U.S., and we haven’t looked back. I grew up all my life knowing I was from Mexico and was continuously reminded by my aunts and uncles. I never thought much of it except “OK, cool.”
I grew up in San Bernardino, Calif. where there was gang violence, death, poverty, etc. I remember adapting to the environment that surrounded me. Being undocumented was not a major factor. I thought I was living a normal “American” life. At 16, I remember taking drivers’ ed as an elective in high school. That same day, I called my older sister Marcela, telling her that after this course I could get my license. I was naïve.
After graduation, I remember applying for jobs at the mall because it was the ideal and cool place to work as a teenager. I had helped my father in construction jobs on the weekends since I was 12 and was tired of that. But I forgot that the empty slot for a Social Security Number required nine digits on the application form. I had none. I had to find employment that either paid under that table, or utilized my ITIN. Most of the time, I was paid under the table, and I was well underpaid. From 18-25, I worked within the restaurant industry and had odd jobs in door-to-door sales, at swap meets, and in window/glass repair.
I had to work to help support my family and pay for tuition. Often times, the road to an academic career is blocked by the discouraging out of state tuition, which I had to pay my first two semesters in community college. It wasn’t easy. Even after obtaining the privilege of paying in-state tuition, I had to take one or two courses in at a time for seven years. This is while working below minimum wage, providing for my family, and paying multiple traffic citations and car impound fees because of driving without a license. It wasn’t until 2013 when I received my DACA when I was able to have confidence to apply for jobs and go to school full time without worrying about my status.
I just turned 30 recently, and I’m a recent UC grad. I’ve risked my life and family just to have a proper education. I can’t fathom the struggle for those who pay out-of-state tuition.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals gave me the liberty to expand my horizons. It provided protective status that enabled me to get a driver’s license, a Social Security Number, and a work permit. I had never been on a plane until DACA arrived. I was able to travel for the first time in my life. DACA made me feel, at least momentarily, like I belonged. I felt like a man with the ability to earn a competitive wage and live like an “American” human being.
When did you first begin worrying about what Donald Trump would do to DACA?
I knew the moment he was elected that DACA was going to end. The crazy thing is that I didn’t worry because I have lived a previous life where DACA didn’t exist. I told myself that I would adapt and survive as I had before. My biggest concern was: How will the young adults and students react in a crisis like this?
UCR has an amazing Undocumented Student Programs office. The morning after the election, the university felt out of tune, melancholic, and depressed. The university held a “Talking Circle”—a safe space where we were able to voice our minds, hearts, and spirits. Tears were shed, dreams felt shattered, and living freely and making our parents proud felt impossible. Inland Empire-Immigrant Youth Collective quickly assembled a “Know Your Rights” workshop that same weekend.
Months earlier, I had obtained Know Your Rights Red Cards from the collective that show what Constitutional rights we had, and I had already been giving them out to anyone who might need them.
During the NEA Leadership Summit in Orlando, I met a high school English teacher from Ohio who told me that his top student was undocumented and he worried about the student’s safety in this political climate. I gave him my last two cards. I ran into him in Boston during the NEA Student Program Student Leadership Conference. He told me that he’d given the cards to his student and the student’s mother. Both were amazed and grateful. He began spreading the word about the cards but didn’t know where to find them, and I showed him where to locate them. My advocacy was validated and I was inspired to continue the fight.
What was your reaction to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ statement rescinding DACA?
His rhetoric—how DACA “yielded terrible humanitarian consequences,” denied jobs to Americans, endangered American heritage, safety, and enforcement of laws, how “failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence, and terrorism,” and how “we could see illegality rise again”—reminded me of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 speech during the 28th Republican National Convention.
Sessions made undocumented, hardworking students into murderers, drug dealers, etc. I felt generalized and criminalized.
How concerned are you about your future in the United States?
I have accepted that the final result may either be deportation or leaving voluntarily. I have an English and Ethnic Studies Degree, and other countries around the world will appreciate my contribution to their society and economy.
Several of my friends and colleagues, both citizens and undocumented, have had the same thought. I believe that conditions will become worse and the Department of Homeland Security will conduct massive and violent raids through Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE). But as an aspiring educator, I have to continue fighting for those who have not yet experienced a great life in the U.S., as I have. In fact, my mission is to make their lives better.
I have hope for change and that realities can be shifted. And at the same time, I have to be real about the possibility of being deported or arrested. There is a song by A Day to Remember that goes “keep your hopes up high and your head down low.” That’s what I plan to do. Privileged people with wealth and power tend have no concept of history or humanity. History tends to keep repeating itself. The rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting oppressed and criminalized for surviving the conditions that were created for them.
In your view, what does this DACA decision tell the world about the United States?
The decision to rescind DACA tells the world how the U.S. treats its people. I believe the exertion of “imperial internalized power” is no different on us than when it is directed toward overthrowing governments in other countries. Black undocumented struggle with the quick-triggered finger of law enforcement and the militarized ICE. Detention centers are inhumane. People are living under concentration-camp conditions. People are dying because of malnourishment and denial of medical attention. These are the conditions that people like Trump, Sessions, and their supporters want the youth of DACA to live under because we don’t fall within the heteronormative, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal upper-middle class. We don’t fit their idea of what “national identity” is.
What have you been doing since the Trump decision?
I remember feeling hurt, lost, depressed the day of the decision. My wife and best friend, Gina, also felt worried for her safety and near future. We attended a DACA rally in San Bernardino at 5:30 that evening, in front of the Homeland Security Department building
I’m two years away from becoming a teacher and I don’t qualify for the renewal that is due on October 5. My DACA expires in May of 2019. This means that the clock has officially started and I’ve begun losing sight of my goal of becoming an educator. It’s slowly slipping away. So when I arrived at the rally after a long hard day and with a cloudy mindset, I was relieved to see how my community came together to defend DACA. It was reported that 200 to 300 people showed up to defend people like me! This meant I was not alone. I plan on engaging in more rallies and protests in the near future.
The next few days, I faced the reality of not being eligible to renew. And I couldn’t stop thinking about the people who thought they had six months to save up $500 to file their renewal, and now have less than a month.
I currently work at a nonprofit, LifeSTEPS, where we work with senior citizens and children. I am a program coordinator for one of their after-school programs. I called my regional supervisor about the possibility of being able to sponsor DACA renewal fees within our region. This month, I got the green light to do it! Now, I am getting the word out to the community.
How is your family dealing with the decision?
My father says Congress must pass the DREAM Act. My mother is angry. She once came with me to a protest in Riverside and saw the support of the community. Because I am married, I have a way to file for residency. But not all have the ability to do so.
My wife says that we can always go to other countries. She tells me that the immigrants in the U.S. are continuously fighting for a country that doesn’t want them. That we are being treated as criminals. And I agree. We are like the “side chick” that gets fed the myth of the American Dream, but when it comes down to committing, the U.S. feeds us lies and creates laws that are legal barriers.
The history of our people in this country has been whitewashed. Yet we keep fighting. I keep fighting. I will keep fighting until I know definitely that I have given my all and there is nothing left to gain in this country. Then, and only then, will I leave.
What can people do to support DACA recipients?
Go to rallies and marches. Sponsor DACA renewals. Create a safe space for undocumented students or sanctuary cities. The Governor of Ohio [John Kasich] did amazing thing in telling DREAMers we are welcome there. Riverside’s very own Congressional representative, Mark Takano, spoke out for undocumented students. You can contribute to funds and scholarships for people who are applying for renewal, or create scholarships to help those who are continuing their college education. There are many things to do.
All I can say is: Become active and get involved. Whether you are able to contribute minimally or give it your all, help is help. It is very much appreciated and welcomed.