The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Effects of DACA rescission reach MSU

“What would have happened if I’d been deported?”

Karina Zelaya, Mississippi State University assistant professor of classical and modern languages and literature, asked herself this question.

For Zelaya, the rescission of DACA brought up memories of childhood.

At the age of 13, Zelaya entered the United States as an illegal immigrant. She was born in El Salvador during the 12-year Salvadoran Civil War. Her father escaped to the U.S. in 1990 because his life was endangered. Three years later, Zelaya joined her parents in the U.S. without proper documentation. Zelaya admitted it was pure luck she got into America as an illegal immigrant.

Once in the U.S.,  Zelaya said she was in “legal limbo.” As an undocumented student, she had a social security card, but lacked a green card.

“Had DACA existed in the 90s, I would have been a DACA student,” Zelaya said.

At 13 years old, Zelaya said the thought of being deported was unbearable. As she grew older and began looking for colleges, her fear worsened. She said whenever she saw a police car, panic filled her, thinking an immigration agent had come to take her away from the country she considered her home.

Zelaya was an exemplary student by all standards; she had a 3.9 GPA, graduated at the top of her class and was on the swim team.

“Talk about a student with a drive,” Zelaya said. “I wanted education. I wanted access to education so badly. But because I came to this country illegally, I did not have a visa. I didn’t have any refugee status.  I completely lacked the proper documentation to go to school, to completely access the public services.”

At 17, Zelaya applied to multiple colleges and received large scholarships from many. However, due to being an undocumented student, she was unable to accept federal financial aid, making it financially impossible to attend her dream schools. While earning her associate’s degree at a community college, Zelaya worked three jobs—paying for her schooling while simultaneously saving money in case she faced deportation. Despite discouragement, Zelaya said she did everything to be the best “citizen” she could be.

“And yet, in the end, it seemed like none of that mattered. I was still treated like a criminal,” Zelaya said. “It was heartbreaking because the message was ‘it really doesn’t matter how good of a person you are. It doesn’t matter how good of a student you are. It all comes down to that legality.’”

With the Trump administration’s announcement to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the 2,836 DACA recipients in Mississippi—the majority of whom are students in institutes of higher learning—are left in uncertainty, much like Zelaya in her childhood..

DACA, initiated by former President Barack Obama in 2012, grants immigrant children who meet certain guidelines a two-year period of prosecutorial discretion, protecting them from deportation.  

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced President Donald Trump’s administration’s desire to rescind DACA on Sept. 5.

Sessions said [DACA] “was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.”

To phase out DACA, the Department of Homeland Security is providing a six-month grace period to consider pending DACA requests and applications for work authorization. Individuals currently enrolled in the program will retain DACA status and work authorizations until their expiration.

“Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue,” Trump Tweeted following the announcement.

Zelaya, now a U.S. citizen, said she was deeply pained by the rescission of DACA, because she relates to the experiences of DACA students.

“I can imagine the pain and the fear, I lived through that,” Zelaya said. “The fear is inexplicable, and they’re still trying to hold it together and perform well in the classes that they are in because they have to. The pressure that they’re under is unthinkable. They have done their best. They are finally making their dream of accessing higher education true. They were promised security, they were promised that they were going to be protected and all of a sudden it’s like this huge slap or a bucket of cold water dumped on them like ‘Nevermind whatever we said, we’re not going to protect you.’ Devastating, total devastation.”

While Mississippi State University has no official count of student recipients of the DACA program, Sid Salter, MSU chief communications officer, said in an email the university assumes it has students affected. Salter said MSU has no official record because immigration status is not required to enroll at the university.

Salter said MSU President Mark Keenum wrote members of the Mississippi Congressional delegation urging them to give attention to the DACA issue.

“The letter reads, in part, ‘Through no fault of their own, these young people have been placed in a situation which could have a dramatic effect on their lives at a critical time in pursuit of their higher education goals. I am hopeful Congress can act in a bipartisan way on this issue and create a fair and compassionate legislative remedy that would relieve concerns that have been thrust upon thousands of students now facing an uncertain future,’” Salter wrote in an email.

Sarah Gresham Barr, MSU senior communication major with an emphasis in public relations, is taking action during the six-month period. Two days after the announcement to end DACA, Barr founded “Dawgs for DACA”, a group to raise awareness for DACA. Dawgs for DACA wrote a petition on Tuesday to urge Mississippi congressmen to support a bill replacing the DACA protection; the petition has over 100 signatures.

“We want our congressmen to act through the legislative process because whether or not the president has the power to provide those protections, we can do it through the law,” Barr said.

Barr interned at Prevent Child Abuse Mississippi in 2015, where she worked with kids who were placed in unsafe situations, outside of their control. She said when she realized it was children and young adults who are at risk for deportation because of the DACA rescission, she knew she had to act.

“I know a lot of these kids and young adults are facing maybe going back to countries where they don’t know anybody, countries that are torn apart by gang violence and a lot of bad situations, or they’re going to have to be on the run within the United States constantly worrying about being caught,” Barr said. “Nobody should have to fear for their life like that. This feels like a very small thing that I can do.”

Barr said the rescindment of DACA contradicts MSU’s values of learning and hard work.

“By standing up for it, I think it is a way to say ‘We’re students and we stand with students, we are working hard for our futures and we want to give other people the chance to work hard for their futures,’” she said. “I think it’s a way to say ‘We understand what our privilege has been and we want to extend it to others.’”

Barr said she wants students to feel support through Dawgs for DACA.

“We’re with you, we’re fighting for you and we believe in you and your ability to be here,” Barr said. “We think you’re important and worth it.”

Regina Hyatt, vice president of student affairs, said the rescinding of DACA takes a personal toll on students because of uncertainty and she encouraged them to take advantage of the resources available in the Holmes Cultural Diversity Center and Student Counseling Services.  

“Obviously, we want out students to be able to continue with their education and we want them to be able to graduate with their degree,” Hyatt said. “I think we’re all hoping that Congress will take supportive action for this group of students.”

As reported by The New York Times on Thursday, Trump said he could support legislation to protect the young immigrants from deportation if it were accompanied by a “massive” border security upgrade.

“We’re working on a plan for DACA,” Trump said.



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Effects of DACA rescission reach MSU