Melissa Azofeifa is an undocumented immigrant who came to the United States from Costa Rica at age 6. A junior journalism major at Stony Brook, Azofeifa is able to legally attend the university thanks to the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals policy, otherwise referred to as DACA.
President Donald Trump’s announcement of plans to rescind the program within six months and leave its replacement to Congress’ discretion, has left Azofeifa and the program’s nearly 800,000 other participants, also known as Dreamers, frightened for their future and unsure of what will come next.
“At the beginning, I was very hurt,” Azofeifa said. “I immediately thought about what that would mean for my studies. What would that mean for everything I wanted to do? We’re all trying to stay calm, it’s a very scary situation.”
DACA was established in 2012 through executive actions made under the Obama administration. It was intended to give undocumented immigrants who entered the the U.S. before age 16 temporary legal status to be renewed every two years. The policy has allowed immigrants like Azofeifa to live, work and pursue education without fear of deportation.
If Congress holds up the DACA repeal without any replacement, Azofeifa said she would rather return to her birthplace, which she has not seen in two decades, than go back to the life she lived before her protected status.
“Even though I don’t really remember anything about Costa Rica, I’m willing to go back if I have to,” Azofeifa said. “Over there, I know I won’t be denied anything, because that’s where I’m a citizen. I refuse to be in the shadows again and not be able to live life. I love being a student here, and losing the ability to be a student would definitely be the last straw.”
Although White House talking points have advised DACA recipients to self-deport, officials within the Trump administration, including the president himself, have suggested the program’s beneficiaries do not need to be concerned about their future in the United States.
Juan Pablo Andrade, a Long Island Republican and policy advisor for the pro-Trump nonprofit organization America First Policies, said DACA was not repealed to deport its recipients.
“To those already here under DACA, they don’t have to worry,” Andrade said. “President Trump, has been promoting legal immigration, so that’s one of the main reasons why they’re repealing DACA. The process of immigration is long and quite frankly very stressful, but we’re trying to make America as competitive as it can be. We want the best of the best people to come here, and obviously the process is long but it’s something that they should do if they want to come here and be American.”
While President Trump and his administration have told Dreamers they have nothing to worry about, many close to the situation, including Queens-based immigration lawyer Alexis Pimentel, doubt the trustworthiness of the executive’s rhetoric.
“I’m hesitant to give them the benefit of the doubt,” Pimentel said. “When you juxtapose that with the pardon of Arpaio, who was convicted for violating people’s rights because he felt they looked like immigrants, it just gives a mixed message.”
Evelin Mercedes, a Dreamer and senior journalism major at Stony Brook, also said she is wary of the president’s assurances
“I’m still nervous about what could happen given the other executive orders he has passed,” Mercedes said. “It could be possible that Congress finds a way to keep our rights, but right now it’s nerve-wracking because we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Should DACA be removed completely, Pimentel suggested it would be hard for the immigrants the program has protected to escape deportation – especially if law enforcement wants them out of the country.
“It’s created a conundrum, because you have a bunch of people who were in the shadows who volunteered their information to Immigration,” Pimentel said. “DACA was able to shield some young adults that had deportation orders, but eventually when DACA phases out, Immigration has all their information and can just go pick them up. They already have a deport order.”
Opinion polls show a vast majority of citizens, including two-thirds of Trump supporters, believe DACA recipients should be allowed to stay in the United States. The president’s announcement has received criticism from across party lines in Congress and prompted protests and shows of support from Stony Brook students and administrators alike.
Mercedes participated in Tuesday’s pro-DACA student rally on campus, along with roughly 200 others who marched to the Student Activities Center as a way of voicing their support for their Dreamer classmates. Seeing people oppose the repeal of DACA gives her hope for her own future, she said.
“It was empowering to see it,” Mercedes said. “I keep on using the word ‘powerful,’ but when you sing the chants and see everybody with the sign altogether, you feel that unity and power. You don’t feel like you’re alone in the situation.”
In a message to the country, Azofeifa echoed a sentiment shared by many of her Dreamer counterparts: DACA recipients are here to partake in and pursue the American Dream, not to steal work from their countrymen.
“We’re not here to take anyone’s job, we’re not here to cause harm to anyone,” Azofeifa said. “We’re here because we want to make a better life for ourselves. It’s the pursuit of happiness, it’s in the Constitution. That’s all we’re asking for: something where we’re not going to have to be scared, we’re not going to have to hide and where we’ll have the opportunity to go to schools like Stony Brook to make a better life for ourselves.”