The threat of losing opportunities afforded by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program can be “emotionally draining,” triggering anger and fear, according to a group of UC Merced graduate students who met with California’s Attorney General on Monday
Five UC Merced graduate students who are DACA recipients had the ear of Xavier Becerra as they shared what it’s like living in an America at a time when their education and livelihoods could be stripped away by the federal government.
Becerra and UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland met with the students Monday at the university’s Downtown Campus Center in Merced for a roundtable discussion to learn about their experiences, and how the legal battle against President Donald Trump’s continued drive to eliminate the Obama-era legislation is affecting them.
DACA is a federal program that enables undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to apply for renewable two-year terms that ensures them protection from deportation and allows them to legally work in the United States.
“I see myself in them,” Becerra said.
Like many UC Merced students including the ones he met with Monday, Becerra was the first in his family to get a university education.
A bid to end the DACA program, spearheaded by several states and the Trump Administration, is currently being hashed out in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
“We’re hoping the Ninth Circuit can keep in place the injunction against President Trump repealing the DACA program,” Becerra said, noting the goal is to bring the matter back to district court to litigate why DACA should remain in place.
Several students shared their concerns with the DACA fight.
It’s “emotionally draining” for some, one student said, noting that the fear of losing DACA status or the effect on undocumented family members can distract from studies.
For others, the threat to DACA invoked feelings of anger and defiance.
“You can take away my status, but you can’t take away my skills,” said Julio Perez, a first-year Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering.
Students also shared how the support of friends and family helps with the stress from the threat of losing DACA status.
After Becerra and Leland asked the students several questions in front of reporters, they had a private lunch to possibly discuss more sensitive matters.
Becerra also updated the students on the legislation and his hopes to protect DACA recipients.
“It was good to hear from (Becerra and Leland), who have a huge influence in this case,” Perez said. “It felt good just talking to people who care about it.”
Becerra said the students expressed courage and qualities of being future leaders.
“Some of these students have gone through way more challenging things that have proven their courage,” Becerra said. “And I believe these dreamers are already testing themselves and proving themselves.”
UC Merced was the location of the roundtable because of the opportunity it provides to undocumented and first-in-family students, Becerra said.
“There were too many families in the Central Valley who always thought that in order for their kids to get a great education, they had to let them go outside the Valley,” Becerra said. “Now they can be close to home.”