DREAMer And Deferred Action Recipient Speaks Out On Activism
By Emma Weinstein-Levey
Nearly 4,600 young undocumented immigrants have already benefitted thanks to the new Deferred Action program which grants two-year stays and work permits, according to the latest numbers released this month. Since the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting requests for deferred action in August, more than 180,000 hardworking young folks have applied out of the estimated 940,000 eligible undocumented youth in the United States.
Campus Progress spoke with Maria Fernanda Cabella, a beneficiary of the directive who leads a civic engagement program at United We DREAM, an organization dedicated to providing resources and education to DREAMers seeking deferred action and furthering the immigrant rights movement beyond policy reform.
What was your experience like applying for deferred action?
It was excited to apply. I was in DC for an activist training on August 15 [the first day applications were accepted] … I brought my paperwork with and submitted it the day the application came out. If thinking rationally, I met every requirement and never had any criminal activity, but I was still nervous that something might come up somehow. Thankfully, everything came out fine and I know of more and more people who are getting work permits.
When did you come to the U.S. and around what circumstances?
I came from Mexico to Texas when I was 12. My family came to Houston, Texas because my dad’s company went bankrupt and he came to the U.S. for work. My family followed him a year later; I came with one younger brother.
Do you go to school? If so, where?
I graduated from my high school and I am currently a senior at Texas A&M University studying political science. I was able to receive in-state tuition as a five-year resident of Texas and my high school made an effort to reach out to DREAMers. We had a great counselor who made students aware of their options.
What was your experience like growing without status? How did you get involved in the DREAMers movement?
I didn’t start getting involved in the movement until I was a freshman in college. I had always heard of the DREAM Act, my mom had seen it on the news, but I figured by the time that I was in college it would no longer be an issue.
At Texas A&M University there were people who were against in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. I realized that no one was going to fight for my rights. I had to get active on my own. The Council for Minority Students educated students on what the real issue is and [explained] that students who are undocumented immigrants work just as hard as other students in high school. The Council has done great job advocating for [immigrant rights] in this community but still some people are adamantly against this [tuition equality].
Do you think the deferred action program has been successful so far?
It’s great to claim this victory for the work of the DREAMers. Now that I have my work permit it is just a reminder that my parents still drive to work without drivers’ licenses and are at risk. [Deferred action] shows that the DREAMers have been successful so far and that this activism can continue to be successful and earn us more rights. My vision of where immigration policy be in five years is that the DREAM Act will have passed—that political parties will stop fighting against each other and work together for a better immigration policy.
Do you have friends or family members who have chosen not to seek deferred action? If so, why?
Some people don’t apply because of financial needs, as it costs $465 to apply. Some people are afraid that if they apply their family members who do not qualify will be tracked and deported. Another reason is that a lot of people are concerned that the program could be overturned in the coming months. In the DREAMer community, people have each other’s back. When people first started coming out as being undocumented, other people within the network of DREAMers would do their best to help protect each other.
What is your American Dream? Do you feel that deferred action will bring you closer?
My American Dream is to be able to live without the fear of being separated from my family. I think that the experience that I have gone through as a DREAMer has shown me how important it is to be active in your country—and I consider [the United States] to be my country, and I want to help communities know that they have to be active in whatever is happening; to vote, to get active. But above all, it is to not have the fear that one day I will be separated from my parents.
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