The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was an immigration policy that protected undocumented minors from deportation as long as they renewed their DACA membership every two years.
DACA also provided undocumented citizens work permits, and financial opportunities for students nationwide looking to get a higher education at a public university.
This temporary protection policy was implemented by the Obama administration in June 2012 and was rescinded by the Trump Administration in Sept. 2017.
On Nov. 16, at 7 p.m. in Jeffords Auditorium, the chair of the Vermont Democratic Party, an immigration historian, and a DACA recipient will sit behind the microphones and tell their stories about what worked, and didn’t work with DACA.
“He (Obama) did it because congress wouldn’t even take it up to vote, so that’s why he did it as an executive action, and I don’t think that can be carried over from one administration to another,” said Professor Sanjukta Ghosh, who agrees with the general idea of the DACA program, but didn’t like the way it came about.
“Executive actions are often reversed, that’s why I think it should go through congress,” she said. “Debate it. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t pass, but debate it at least. Bring it up. For me, that’s important.”
Ghosh believes that the best way to reach students and audience members at the panel event, and encourage change, is to reach out to their intellectual side, rather than their emotional side.
“My students are very sensitive. Young people are. So if you just tell them stories about young people who’ve come to get a better life and are now in jail or something, and many of them are, they’re going to be moved to tears,” she said. “But I’m an academic. I do want them to vote with their hearts, but I really want them to vote with their minds.”
She said that’s how she chose the panelists. She wanted a DACA recipient. She wanted one person to be an academic, who could tell us what this is. And she wanted one person to be a legislator.
One of the panelists, Eloisa Romero, was in the DACA program, which helped her get through university. She is a student in the human affairs master’s program at University of Vermont, and an activist.
“I’m not coming to change minds,” Romero said. “But I want to share a personal story.”
Romero is originally from México, but she calls California her home. She has lived there since she was nine and did all of her schooling there, including her undergraduate years. In December of this year, she will finally be able to return to México for the first time in 18 years.
She will reunite with family members she once had to leave behind. Unfortunately, a cousin she was very close to, died three weeks ago.
Because of her inability to return home and her family’s inability to come to the U.S., she won’t get to reunite with him.
“There is hope,” she said. “Damage will be done under the Trump Administration, but things will get better.”
“It’s painful, and it’s hurts, and it’s frustrating, but at the same time, it’s okay. We’re going to make it through,” she said.
She hopes to remind audience members of a few things. One, according to Romero, is that there will always be someone who is supportive of you and your dreams. That not all undocumented immigrants are people of color, and that, to her, the word “illegal” in relation to immigrants, is diminutive and insulting, because they didn’t do anything illegal.
Another panelist is Faisal Gill, the chair of the Vermont Democratic Party. He came to America as an 8-year-old boy who left his school, friends and language. As a child, he didn’t want to come to the United States. Now, he said, “If I had to return, I don’t know if I would have survived.”
“He has three things going for him,” said Ghosh, “He’s a labor lawyer. He has been an immigration lawyer. And then, he’s Pakistani-American and Muslim-American. He will give us so many perspectives.”
Gill hopes to share his ideas and goals for a new bill he plans to get passed, ensuring that all Vermonters have the right to a public defender if arrested, including those who are undocumented.
He feels it is horrible for people to be going after the “dreamers” because they are productive and beneficial members of the economy and society.
“I think congress needs to solidify their status immediately because the Trump Administration keeps coming back with, ‘it’s the law. It’s the law. We have to do it.’ But there are some laws that we know are not for the good of the public. I don’t see any benefit in enforcing this law,” Gill said.
He also said that he feels it is a huge waste of resources trying to round up the undocumented citizens to get them deported.
“It’s like sending all the Vermont State Police on Route 89 and saying stop every single person who’s speeding,” Gill said, “Or going after everyone who’s ever jaywalked.”
He hopes that by getting to speak on the 16th, that people really start to understand what the issue is. And according to Gill, yes, being a nation of laws and following the law is a valid point, but to enforce that law and take someone who was brought here when they were a baby, who is now a young adult and productive member of society, and send them to a country that they never knew, does no good for society.
“I think everyone should be writing to a congressman and saying, ‘we need to resolve this issue,’” he said. “And another thing we need to do is make sure that every single person who’s going to legal proceedings have legal representation.”
The final panelist will be Kevin Scott Wong, a professor at Williams College and an immigration historian.
Gill, Romero, and Ghosh seem to all be on the same page when it comes to the impact they want this panel to have on the audience. They hope to inform, and educate, rather than break hearts and invoke tears.
“I’m not going to tell them that we are giving them facts. We are giving them accurate information. Information that can be backed up. Not fake news,” Ghosh said. “After that, do what you want with that information. And go away armed with that information.”