UNL student dreams of normalcy in wake of decision halting DACA

Story, aggregated content and video by Zach Hammack, NewsNetNebraska.

Annia Morin-Chavez just wants to be a normal college student.

But living a normal, college life is difficult for the sophomore accounting major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who moved to the U.S. from Mexico with family when she was in kindergarten.

Morin-Chavez is a Dreamer – an enrollee in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was instituted as an executive order by then-President Barack Obama in 2012.

DACA recipient and UNL-student Annia Morin-Chavez.

The program allowed immigrants who moved to the U.S. as minors to receive a two-year renewable deferment period from deportation, while opening up opportunities to find a job and enroll in school.

But on Sept. 5 President Donald Trump announced he would rescind the executive order, giving Congress a six-month period to evaluate what do about protecting DACA recipients.

Morin-Chavez first applied for DACA in its first year in 2012, when she was 14.

Now, Morin-Chavez will be allowed to maintain her status until her permits runs out in January 2019. But she said she still fears she would have to return to an unfamiliar country once that period ends.

“For me, it was pretty much what happens next,” said Morin-Chavez, who moved to South Sioux City from Mexico. “…I would go to place where I was born but not raised…I don’t know it. I don’t know how it looks.”

This uncertainty around her status as a DACA recipient has prevented Morin-Chavez from having “the chance to be like a normal kid.”

“I never got to skip class,” she said. “I never really got to live that normal life because I had always had to be home at a certain time, make sure I don’t hang out with the wrong people. I had be able to stay here and make sure my status, my background was good.”

Trump’s decision

Through DACA, recipients are protected from deportation and afforded certain rights, such as enrolling in school and receiving a social security number that allows them to find employment.

Morin-Chavez was even able to get a driver’s license when she was 18 because of a state law that expanded DACA recipients’ rights in Nebraska.

Trump’s decision to effectively end DACA, however, was a blow for Dreamers at UNL, according to Maricia Guzmán, a program coordinator at the Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services at UNL.

“It was devastating,” said Guzmán. “A lot of those student came when they were small. They don’t even remember their home country. To potentially go back to a country they have no memories of or have limited understanding of the language, that’s devastating.”

There around 50 undocumented students protected by DACA at UNL, according to Guzmán, and around 3,300 in Nebraska alone.

Enrollees who permits expired by March 5, 2018 were given until Oct. 5 to renew them after the Trump administration announced it would rescind DACA.

UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green released a statement on Sept. 5, saying Trump’s DACA announcement brought “palpable uncertainty to a few of our students.”

“We encourage our federal elected officials to enable us to continue to provide a proven path for all to pursue their dreams,” the statement continued.

On the other hand, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson applauded the end of DACA in a September press release, months after he joined other attorney generals urging the Trump administration to end the program.

“This is a very important step in protecting the rule of law and the separation of powers set forth in our Constitution,” Peterson stated in the release, claiming the program improperly expanded laws passed by Congress.

Resources at UNL

Resources are available for Dreamer students, said Morin-Chavez, like the UNL chapter of Define America, a media and culture organization that provides support for students dealing with immigration-related issues.

Valeria Rodriguez, the founder of the Define America chapter at UNL and a rural community organizer for the immigration advocacy group Nebraska Appleseed, said students are able to find legal aid and other help through both organizations.

Since Trump’s election in November 2016, Define America at UNL has hosted an event where undocumented students could consult with immigration attorneys to answer legal questions.

Despite Trump’s decision, Rodriguez said DACA recipients still have hope that Congress will pass an act to protect them.

“A lot of them are trying to share their story, utilize their voice for an act to be passed,” said Rodriguez. “If it does not pass, they are going to go back to the shadows, something they’ve already lived through and experienced before.”

Guzmán said that immigrants play a key role in the Nebraskan economy and that ending DACA protections would affect that role.

“Even if not all of them are eligible for deportation…when people do have to leave that creates trauma and psychological dysfunction,” she said. “And we’re going to see that if nothing happens, and we’re going to have that dysfunction in our community.”

Ultimately, Morin-Chavez said that she and other DACA recipients are here to contribute to society.

“We’re here because we want to make a difference,” she said. “We’re here because want to be here; we don’t want to be anywhere else. We just want to be safe.”

After college, Morin-Chavez’s goal is to help people in need files their taxes, a goal only possible if her protections afforded by DACA stay in place.

“I want to be able to live a life that my parents want me to live.”

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