Undocumented Rutgers students face uncertainty at prospect of DACA being repealed
If Josue Serrano, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, managed to get an audience with President Donald J. Trump, he said he would not use the statistics he usually relies on to get his points across, but rather, he would ask the president one question.
“These are people who are young, who have gone to high school here, who have gone through many background checks and who can’t commit any serious crime,” he said. “Why would you want to look them in the eyes and tell them that they are no longer granted a work permit or a social security number — the most basic of needs to function in this society?”
Although Serrano believes the question would probably not move Trump, he said that for the sake of himself and thousands of other recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, he hopes it would.
If DACA is terminated, Serrano would no longer be able to commute to school or go to work to help finance his education, as he would lose his driver’s license and work permit, he said.
The end of the program would also remove the prosecutorial discretion exercised for about 750,000 DACA recipients, commonly known as “Dreamers,” leaving them subject to deportation, according to a Pew poll.
Serrano said he could be sent back to Mexico — the country he left when he was three months old.
“It would entail a greater sense of insecurity, being that I could be a target of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),” he said.
Serrano is vice-president of UndocuRutgers, a student organization he created with Carimer Andujar, a fellow DACA recipient, that advocates for undocumented students.
Andujar, a School of Engineering junior, said their work has become more difficult after the election.
“If DACA is taken away, it would be difficult for me to finish school,” she said. “Even if I do finish school, I would have no prospect here because I would be unable to work.”
There are about 450 students like Serrano attending the Rutgers University campuses in New Brunswick, Newark and Camden who are shielded by DACA, said Karen Smith, the acting senior director of University News and Media Relations.
“We can't speculate on what may happen to DACA protections under the law, but President Robert L. Barchi has been very clear in his strong support of all of our students, including undocumented students and those who have DACA protections,” Smith said in an email.
According to statistics from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, as of September 2016, nearly 21,000 initials requests for DACA in New Jersey were approved, along with more than 17,000 renewals.
Although he pledged to rescind former President Barack Obama’s order, Trump has been hesitant to strip these protections from young undocumented immigrants, pointing out in a press conference last week that it is one of the most challenging issues for him.
“We're gonna show great heart, DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you,” Trump said. “To me, it's one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids.”
Ross Baker, a distinguished professor in the Department of Political Science, said Trump’s hesitation is rooted in the fact that the president wishes to avoid a “blowback,” noting that repealing the program might not be politically expedient or popular among the public.
“President Trump is not interested in putting a stick in a hornet’s nest,” Baker said. “He’s worried about the fact that these are people who don’t know a country other than the United States. To deport them to places that they are totally unfamiliar with is an extreme act.”
The president has faced some criticism from immigration hardliners for not repealing what they believe is amnesty for undocumented immigrants.
But Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans have urged the president not to repeal DACA and leave this group of young immigrants susceptible to deportation.
In December, the BRIDGE Act, a bipartisan bill to continue the protections offered under DACA, was introduced in Congress.
Last month, Barchi invited the Rutgers community to advocate for the proposed legislation.
In recent weeks, ICE has carried out what they call “targeted enforcement operations” throughout the country, detaining hundreds of undocumented immigrants. The agency has stated that these are routine operations targeting those with criminal convictions.
Yet, controversy has ensued as some DACA recipients have been part of those apprehended. In Washington, 23-year-old Daniel Ramirez was arrested and is currently facing deportation to Mexico, which he left when he was 7-years-old.
ICE called Ramirez, who has no criminal record, a “self-admitted” gang member — an allegation which the DACA recipient’s attorney denied. A similar incident transpired in New Brunswick, New Jersey last year.
Serrano said these operations instill fear in immigrant communities, noting that his father was once detained by ICE agents.
“(ICE) is already going into houses without warrants and saying that they are looking for x and x, and picking up the rest of the family,” Serrano said. “Why empower these agencies more, when they are already doing enough damage to these families?”
On Feb. 21, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued two memos directing ICE agents to deport any undocumented immigrant with any criminal offense — a shift from the prioritization of serious criminals by the Obama administration.
DHS officials said the new policies would not change the protections for those shielded by DACA, The New York Times reported.
Although he’s had discussions with his mother and sister, who are also undocumented, about the possibility of starting a new life in Mexico, Serrano said his mother changed her mind after hearing about her son’s activism and seeing his resolve to stay in America.
“My mom is now more willing to join in the fight and she is now looking more into the possibility of actually staying and developing a future here — rather than giving up,” he said.
Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloreports.