- By Seung Pang, Staff Writer -
Third-year Meredith student Leslie Arreaza gets a lot of questions from people after they know she is an undocumented immigrant. But the first question people always ask is “why don’t you become legal?”
“I get ‘a lot’ of questions,” she said. Arreaza does not mind the curiosity from other people, because they just want to learn about this issue. Before she decided to open up about her immigration status, Arreaza was afraid of being questioned.
She moved to the U.S. from Guatemala at age seven. Growing up as a teenager, her parents always warned her to “never tell anyone we’re undocumented.” Arreaza’s parents told her this after former president George W. Bush repealed driver’s licenses from undocumented immigrants.
In high school, Arreaza didn’t tell anybody about her status. “I was scared,” she said. “I thought they are gonna hate me.” She remembers the undocumented immigrant community back then as being very secretive. “No one had to say, but everyone knew,” she said.
When the Obama-era program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was designed to shield undocumented immigrants who were brought into the U.S. as children, Arreaza could dream again. Arreaza became unafraid, at age 20, after being deeply inspired by an undocumented speaker Jose Antonio Vargas at the summit for Golden Door Scholars.
“He was speaking up for us,” said Arreaza. “I had some sense of security so I felt like it was my job to step up.” Now as the president of the Meredith Refugee and Immigration Club and an activist, she speaks up for the DACA community. When President Trump rescinded DACA on September 5, she went to the Durham rally and spoke on behalf of protesters. “The tension is worse now,” said Arreaza. Following the repeal of DACA, President Trump gave the Congress six months to pass a replacement. As a result, 800,000 undocumented immigrants are at risk of deportation.
David McLennan, a professor of political science at Meredith College, says it is unclear what President Trump’s true intentions are with DACA recipients. “The basic argument that the Trump administration made was that President Obama had exceeded his constitutional authority in the executive order that established the DACA program,” said McLennan.
After the President recently had a meeting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Democrats announced that they had reached a deal with President Trump to pass a law protecting the Dreamers, another name for DACA recipients. But later, President Trump tweeted that “no deal was made on DACA.”
The President says he wants to do what’s fair for the U.S. economy. But experts predict ending DACA will cost 433.4 billion in GDP loss over a decade, according to the Center for American Progress. In North Carolina alone, 23,434 of 26,936 DACA recipients, or around 87%, are working. Removing them would cost over a billion dollars, or $1,179,268,293 to be exact.
What’s the future for DACA recipients? Currently, there are three bills at the Congress level: the Dream Act, Recognizing America’s Children Act, and BRIDGE Act, according to the National Immigration Law Center.
“While the BRIDGE Act is the least good for the Latino community and the Hope Act is supported by mostly Democrats, the Dream Act has a strong bipartisan support,” said Iliana Santillán-Carrillo, Community Organizer at El Pueblo, a non-profit organization advocating for the North Carolina’s Latino community. “The Dream Act could provide a path to legal status as a permanent form of relief,” said Santillán-Carrillo.
According to a Gallup poll, 84% of U.S. adults, 76% of Republicans, and 91% of Democrats support immigration reform with a path to citizenship.
North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis says there is a compassionate and conservative solution to the DACA dilemma. “This is not a betrayal to the voters who elected President Trump,” he said in his Op-Ed article on Fox News. Tillis promised to introduce a solution that would provide a legal path to undocumented children to earn conditional legal status by requiring them to be employed, to pursue higher education, or to serve in US Armed Forces. “For the many young undocumented immigrants who were brought here as small children, America is the only home they’ve ever known,” said Tillis. “The vast majority of Democrats, Republicans, and independents believe they should have a chance to remain here and contribute to the nation to their fullest ability,” he added.
A week ago, Arreaza led a workshop on how to effectively reach representatives in Congress. “They can take DACA, but not our will to fight,” said Arreaza in her contributing article on HuffPost.
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