Dreamers living in fear: DACA college students uncertain about their future

HARLINGEN — Like many college students here, Itzel Hernandez is afraid she could be deported before she graduates.

“It’s scary,” said Hernandez, 20, who is planning to graduate Texas State Technical College with an associate’s degree in business office management in May.

Hernandez said she is afraid changing immigration policies could lead to the repeal of the program opened to give undocumented students an opportunity to go to college.

So yesterday, she attended a TSTC seminar in which attorneys updated students on the federal government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

At TSTC, there are as many as 100 DACA students who fear a repeal could lead to their deportation.

An audience of about 50 students and social workers attended the seminar, part of TSTC’s Fourth Annual Empowerment Conference, which focuses on issues facing students.

“DACA is so relevant in the concerns of our students,” Patty Flores, the college’s student support services coordinator, said yesterday in an interview.

“We have students who are not sure what’s going to happen.”

Earlier this month, a judge blocked the Trump administration’s rescinding of DACA renewals.

“I’m grateful I can renew it,” said Hernandez, whose family left Mexico when she was 3 to settle in the Rio Grande Valley. “If not I’d be deported to a country I don’t remember.”

But she worries the program could again be repealed.

Hernandez said she wants to go to study for her bachelor’s degree at Texas State University in San Marcos, but she is afraid the Border Patrol could detain her at a checkpoint for deportation.

“It’s an obstacle,” she said of the checkpoints. “My mom is terrified.”

The seminar’s speakers included Ana Villegas, a Harlingen attorney, who said DACA students make up part of her case load.

“There’s a lot of fear in the DACA population,” Villegas said in an interview.

Villegas said DACA students are afraid the government could track them down to deport them.

“Out of their own free will, they came out of the shadows and gave the government their information,” Villegas said. “Some people don’t drive any more. Some people are afraid to go out. They’re afraid to get picked up (detained).”

Abraham Diaz, an education specialist with La Union Del Pueblo Entero, or LUPE, a branch of the United Farm Workers, said his presentation was aimed at updating students amid the new immigration laws.

“We want people to get up-to-date on what they need to know,” Diaz said in an interview. “There’s so much confusion that it’s uncertain right now.”

In his PowerPoint presentation, Diaz told the small audience to “know your rights.”

“Immigration laws are changing,” Diaz said. “You have rights.”

Diaz said the law requires authorities to use a warrant to enter homes.

“Do not open your door. They can’t open your door without your permission,” Diaz said. “You have a right to remain silent. Don’t incriminate yourself. Nobody can force you to sign anything. If there’s a document you don’t understand, do not sign it.”