By Blake Stewart
Eight Trevecca students and two faculty members attended an annual conference in Washington D.C. last week to meet with lawmakers to advocate for Congress to pass a clean Dream Act.
League of United Latin American Citizens or (LULAC) hosts an annual conference for college students called Emerge, a multi-day Latino leadership conference that provides college students with public policy briefings on issues like public health, education and immigration.
“None of us have been to the conference before, so this was a new experience for us,” said Sofia Guerrero, president of Futuro.
Futuro is a professional development club focused on engaging Latino college students throughout Middle Tennessee in leadership training and networking.
All eight students attending the trip are members of the club. The students include Arturo Prieto, Guillermo Vargas, Irais Hernandez, Gabi Leon, Sofia Guerrero, David Amaya-Velasquez, Guillermo Vargas, Crystal Hernandez, Said Lopez and Esmeralda Ramirez.
Leading the trip was Brodrick Thomas, coordinator of student engagement and diversity along with Erica Hayden, assistant professor of history.
“This was a really critical time to be in D.C thinking about advocacy work with the DACA deadline approaching,” said Hayden
Attendees of the Emerge conference also received training in civic engagement, advocacy, program coordination and opportunities to network with employers.
“The whole conference was preparing us for lobbying, being knowledgeable about laws, especially DACA, and us pursuing a clean Dream Act,” said Guerrero.
The Dream Act is a potential bipartisan legislative solution for more than 2.1 million young adults who came to the U.S. as children but have no pathway to citizenship. This includes the 800,000 DACA recipients or Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals, 130 of which are students at Trevecca.
“Persuing a clean Dream Act is asking for the minimum,” said Guerrero. “It’s a human right just like advocating for the homeless to have a home or the hungry to be fed. We are asking for this idea of becoming citizens and to be documented and say, ‘This is my home.’”
On the final day of the conference students went to the capital building to sit down with senators and legislators to advocate the urgency for the Dream Act and to hear their stories.
“I think the more that politicians can see faces and hear personal stories is what’s going to change their mind,” said Hayden. “To see people in their offices telling their personal stories is very powerful.”
One of President Donald Trump’s campaign promises was to end the Obama-era executive order Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA. The program was created in 2012 as a way to allow young people brought to the United States as children without documentation to be granted amnesty from deportation, apply for work permits, get driver’s license and attend college.
Since the executive action went into effect, an estimated 800,000 people were protected under the order. More than 130 students at Trevecca and around 8,300 Tennesseans have DACA status.
In September, the Trump administration announced that the White House would end (DACA) in six months causing mass protests across the nation and creating turmoil throughout Congress.
With the DACA debate at the forefront of political squabble in Washington and the Mar. 5 deadline for Congress to pass a bill for the estimated 800,000 DACA recipients approaching, the focus of this year’s conference was centered around DACA students and finding a permanent legislative solution that would lead to citizenship.
“As a DACA recipient, knowing I only have a few months left I understand the delicate situation we are in,” said Guerrero.
During the congressional office visits, the senate was voting on four bills centered around immigration reform. None of the bills passed, leaving the future still uncertain for DACA recipients.
President Trump has said previously that without funding for a border wall there will be no DACA resolution. The president has called for an estimated $25 billion in funding to fulfill one of his campaign promises to build a wall along the border of Mexico.
Prior to the vote President Trump said that he would not support a bill unless it included the four pillars of his own plan. The pillars are a path to citizenship for Dreamers, a border wall, an end to the visa lottery system and family-based migration that the president has called “chain migration.”