On February 7, the University of Northern Colorado Cesar Chavez Cultural Center put on a “Dreamers and Intersections of Identity” panel in honor of
DREAMer Awareness Month. During the panel, six UNC students and alumni discussed their experiences as DREAMers.
A DREAMer is somebody under the age of 31 who is an undocumented citizen, having come to the United States before the age of 16. President Obama introduced the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals program, commonly referred to as DACA, in 2012 along with the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. Both of these programs promoted the gradual integration of minor immigrants as economically geared citizens in the United States.
According to the American Council on Education, DACA recipients receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation, makes them eligible for a work permit, a social security card and a driver’s license.
According to The Guardian, there are about 3.6 million undocumented immigrants who qualify as DREAMers but only 800,000 of these people are receiving the protection of DACA.
University of Northern Colorado DREAMers are working to receive an education. The CCCC hosted the DREAMer panel to help broadcast several UNC students’ experiences and provide support from the college community.
The discussion started with explanations reagrding when the panelists first understood they were undocumented. A couple students said they had known their entire lives that they were undocumented but never understood what it meant until it came to be applying for jobs, scholarships or college.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, many DACA recipients are unaware they are unauthorized immigrants until they become teenagers. Without a social security number, undocumented immigrants are forced to work and be paid under the table while many opportunities are stripped away from them. One student on the panel expressed his frustration in knowing he is competent for a job but is not eligible due to the status of being illegal.
If a DREAMer signs up for DACA, he or she is granted a temporary social security number in which they can work or go to school legally.
As the panelists discussed how their status changed their plans, many addressed how the opportunity of school drifted out of reach. The panel emphasized that DREAMers do not receive any federal funding and further addressed the struggle of planning and paying for higher education.
Many students recalled working with high school counselors and coming to dead ends— where counselors couldn’t provide proper scholarships or programs for eligible DREAMers to take advantage of. Other students addressed how their plans drastically changed once President Trump ended the DACA program on Sept. 2, 2017.
One student had originally been on track to complete a major in elementary education. However, she had to change majors in order to graduate with something under their belt before the DACA retraction goes into place this coming March. According to the student, “what you want to do changes drastically due to your papers.”
The panel also went over what other prominent identities DREAMers hold.
Some of the students on the panel are lantinx and have endured language barriers and insensitivities found in their classrooms. Latinx is a gender neutral term to describe individuals of latina or latino heritage. One student was brought to tears as she recalled the frustration of an insensitive English class. She recalled having to eventually drop the class because the professor would not give her the assistance or corrections she needed— the other option was to fail.
All the dreamers identified themselves as first-generation college students and discussed the difficulties of “navigating the world on your own”and “trying to explain that to your parents.”
This ties into the cultural barriers a majority of the panelists face. One young woman discussed the struggle of coming from a traditional family and defying their expectations and wants. She described how her family expected her to become a passive homemaker and were shocked and not understanding of her choices.
The panelists also discussed DREAMer myths, false preconceptions a majority hold of their status.
One student said not all DREAMers are based in Latin America. According to The Guardian, most dreamers are from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — other immigrants to America can come from across the globe, including South Korea or Malaysia.
Another student brought up the myth that DREAMers go to school for free. However, DREAMers do not receive financial aid due to their status. These students are not eligible for many scholarships because they don’t have a social security number or simply because they were illegal immigrants.
Many of the panelists praised UNC for being a life changer. They commented on the community supporting and acknowledging status, describing it as a welcoming experience. Many students acknowledged that if it were not for being reached out by an admissions counselor here at UNC, they would not be here. By not only acknowledging their status, but providing proper scholarships and aid for these students was a game changer.
The panel came to a close with the final question: how does your status effects emotional well-being?
Many of the students addressed their frustrations with the current political spectrum. The students described how their security felt threatened when President Trump ordered an end to DACA. Under Trump’s administration, as of March 2019 800,000 young adults will become eligible for deportation and lose access to education and work visas. In times of trouble one student said she reminds herself, “that not everything lasts… and remember who you’re doing it for.” The students acknowledged how they are not receiving an education for themselves but to inspire their siblings and elevate their family.