DACA Students Looking for Options

Oct 3, 2017

Micaela Escudero and Diego Salinas are DACAmented seniors at James Madison University.
Credit Christopher Clymer Kurtz

In accordance with President Trump’s ending of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, Thursday, October 5, 2017, is the last day that some eligible DREAMers, also called “DACAmented” residents, can apply for renewal of their DACA status. While Congress is working out what to do, many of these young people are anxious about their options. WMRA’s Christopher Clymer Kurtz spoke with two students at James Madison University, and filed this report.

When he first learned about DACA, Diego Salinas simultaneously was shocked — and felt its saving grace.

DIEGO SALINAS: I didn’t really know about DACA or the whole scope of my situation as an undocumented immigrant until DACA was already starting to roll out. That’s when my parents clued me in on the fact that I was undocumented, so it was a bit of like a big shock, but it got kind of washed away really fast because I had DACA.

Salinas was born in El Salvador. When he was five years old, in 2001, he came with his parents and two younger brothers to live in the Richmond area. Under DACA, he said, filing renewal paperwork became routine. Now, Salinas is a senior theater and Italian major at JMU, and he’s feeling anxious.

SALINAS: I was kind of living in this limbo, happy, and then when DACA was rescinded, that’s when everything kind of blew up again, and this time it’s possible that I don’t have a saving grace coming any time soon.

As of early last month, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is no longer accepting DACA applications. Some current DREAMers, as they’re called, can seek renewal — but only those whose permits expire before March 5, 2018 and only if they re-apply by October 5. That’s tomorrow. 

Virginia is among the states that have filed a lawsuit to block the ending of DACA, and Congress has some legislative solutions in mind, but for now, as he is ineligible to reapply, Salinas marks November 1 of next year as the day he will no longer be a legal resident.

SALINAS: From there it all just bunches up, because without being able to get a job or drive, then what can I do?

Micaela Escudero is another senior at JMU. She’s studying international affairs, and on a breezy afternoon she said that just last week she learned that her DACA status was renewed. 

MICAELA ESCUDERO: I’m really grateful. At the same time I feel a little bit guilty, because I have a lot of friends who are DACAmented and are unable to renew. 

Escudero’s mother brought her to the Valley from Argentina when she was six years old. As a senior at Waynesboro High School, she took advanced classes, and wanted to go to college. But her worry, that her undocumented status would mean she wouldn’t be accepted into college, kept Escudero from making a decision until, just in time, President Obama executed his DACA policy. She quickly enrolled at Blue Ridge Community College, and was able to get a driver’s license, and work. Later, in-state college tuition was granted for DACAmented students in Virginia, making full-time school more affordable.

Escudero said that DACAmented students feel their prospects narrowing. 

ESCUDERO: For many of us, we are graduating now. Others aren’t going to be able to graduate, or don't know whether they’re going to be able to work here anymore. So a lot of things are uncertain right now.

For both Escudero and Salinas, it’s almost inconceivable to them not to be able to stay in the country they know and love.

ESCUDERO: I feel American. I’ve lived here in the Valley for 17 years. I barely remember my own country. You just feel lost, and you’re scared because you know you have to make a decision about whether you want to risk staying here and being deported, or you want to go live abroad, or go back to your home country and start all over again.

SALINAS: Virginia is my home. I’m an Eagle Scout. I played little league baseball. I played soccer. If you just look at me, if you just saw the resume of my life, it would look like I’m your average, all-American guy, but when you look for one piece of paper that everyone else has, I don’t have it, and then that negates everything else.

There are 12,000 DREAMers in Virginia, and Escudero and Salinas are determined to keep what they and so many others are facing in the public eye. Last month on campus they helped organize a silent march and then rally where Salinas spoke.

[Sounds of rally speech]

SALINAS: ...Because the light will always drive out the darkness. Thank you. God bless JMU. God bless the United States of America.

They want pressure on the politicians who are deciding their fates.

ESCUDERO: They’re using DACA as a political ball, and it’s very important for them to pass legislation because we pay taxes, we work, there’s a lot of things that we contribute, and we want to stay here, and we want to keep contributing.

DACA was a band aid solution, in the absence of legislation to protect people like Escudero and Salinas as they enriched the country and pursued their dreams. That band aid has been ripped off, now, bringing new urgency to the need for a permanent solution.

For WMRA News, I’m Christopher Clymer Kurtz.

EDITOR'S FOOTNOTE: Rally audio was provided by Kristin Zimney, a JMU student who is making a documentary about Escudero and Salinas and other DACAmented students. It will be screened at 7 p.m. on December 14 as part of the JMU School of Media Arts and Design’s DocFest in Court Square Theater, Harrisonburg.