Juan Flores, a student at College of the Canyons (COC), remembers exactly where he was when he heard that the Trump Administration decided to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
“I was actually in my house. I had just got home from work,” said Flores, who is a DACA recipient. “I was really just shocked, I didn’t know what to do so that night I did not sleep at all. So many questions were running through my head that I didn’t know what to expect, I still don’t know what to expect.”
In 2000, at the age of 2, Flores was brought to the United States from Mexico by his parents. The family of three moved to the U.S. to find a better life and fulfill the American Dream.
“From my parents’ perspective, we [immigrants] come because we have a better opportunity to live better,” he said. “This is my home. This is where I’ve been since I was a little kid. I grew up watching English television going to elementary school to high school only speaking English.”
Flores was among dozens of COC students and staff who rallied together Wednesday to educate the campus community about the impact of the proposed changes to the DACA program and send a message of support to those in the DACA community.
The #DefendDACA event was organized in a little less than a week and was co-sponsored by the Associated Student Government (ASG), the Model United Nations Club and International Service and Programs.
“There’s so much misinformation about DACA recipients and immigration in this country and in this valley,” ASG President Devon Miller said. “We wanted to give students a platform to get the correct information. That was the biggest thing.”
Miller stressed that the rally was not an anti-Trump event, but was a pro-DACA and pro-student event to educate the campus community and dispel some of the myths surrounding DACA.
“These people came here when they were very young. It is the American Dream, the American Ideal to let these people stay here, get an education, get a job,” Miller said. “Zero percent of these DACA recipients are criminals, 91 percent have jobs, 91 percent pay taxes and contribute to our society.”
California is the state with the most DACA recipients, with a fourth, or 200,000, Dreamers living, working or studying in the state.
“I can guarantee you that you sit in a classroom or sat in a classroom with a DACA recipient so they could be your co-worker, they could be your neighbor. They are, for all intents and purposes, American,” Political Science Professor Nicholas Hernandez said.
Phil Gussin, political science professor and faculty advisor for the Model United Nations, said the conversation about DACA must continue to protect friends, classmates and family members who could be affected by the policy change before the end of the school year.
“While some people talk about DACA in terms of policy, it’s not a debate for DACA students,” Gussin said. “It’s life and death and it’s a threat that the only country you’ve ever known talking about deporting you or deporting your parents.”
Breanny Andrade, a COC alumna who is transferring to University of California San Diego, said she personally understands the fears of DACA students as the daughter of immigrants.
“Growing up I was always told these stories and was in awe of the struggle they went through,” Andrade said. “I know that there isn’t anything that separates me from someone else, a citizen or someone who was not born here, someone who had no option and deserves the same opportunities as I.”
The #DefendDACA event also worked to dispel myths surrounding DACA recipients and inform students about services available to them at the Student Health and Wellness Center and through the International Service and Programs.
“DACA students are not international students, DACA students are domestic students, they’re Santa Clarita Valley students,” said Tim Honedal, assistant director of International Services and Programs.
“It was powerful, just to see students share their stories with other students who may have been affected,” Miller said. “We didn’t get a DACA student to speak unfortunately because they are being silenced out of fear and out of anxiety.”
Although Flores did not speak at the #DefendDACA rally, he chose to share his voice after the event to fight for his rights and not live in the shadows.
“For me I see it in a different way. I’m in fear but I want to be out there to promote that I’m fighting for my rights, I’m fighting for what I believe in,” Flores said. “I’m here for my dream, this is my dream. My whole life depends on this.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_