MCALLEN, RGV – While a federal district judge in Washington, D.C., was ruling that ending DACA was unlawful, a Mexican Consulate’s Office was giving grants to students so they could renew their slots in the popular immigration program.
Mexico’s Consul in McAllen, Eduardo Bernal Martínez gave $495 to each of 20 or so Mexican students. The money will allow the students to renew their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals permits for another two years, thereby allowing them to work and travel freely in the United States.
“We are trying to help the students. The $495 will help with their application fee. It tells them they are not alone, that the Mexican government is working for them,” Bernal told the Rio Grande Guardian.
DACA, a program created in 2012 by President Barack Obama, has shielded an estimated 800,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation. They were brought to the United States by their parents as children. DACA gives the young immigrants two-year work permits. For those living along the Texas-Mexico border, it means they can travel beyond the checkpoints with immunity.
“DACA takes us out of the shadows,” said Jose Luis, a young immigrant living in McAllen who did not want to be fully identified. “I want to thank the Consul for providing us with the DACA application funds. It is a big relief for us.”
Asked what he and the other students receiving the funds will do next, Jose Luis said: “From here we are going to gather our paperwork and go to the lawyer’s office, fill out the paperwork and send it.”
The young student said DACA recipients will also keep working and fighting. “It gives us two more years. I have been here since I was nine years old. My mother brought me here in 2012. With DACA it is a lot easier to find work. Life becomes a lot easier than being an immigrant. It opens so many doors. I would hate to go back to the days when we had no social security number or driver’s license.”
In Washington, D.C., on Friday, Judge John Bates ruled the Trump administration had failed to justify its proposal to end DACA, the Obama-era program that has protected from deportation nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. The judge called Trump’s decision unlawful, and that it was “arbitrary and capricious.” He gave the Administration 20 days to put the program back in place, while also allowing it to appeal.
This decision is unlikely to be the end of that matter, however. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has brought a lawsuit to end DACA and is expected to prevail in a Texas federal court.
The Rio Grande Guardian asked Giovanni Escobedo of Edinburg, a leading advocate for DACA in the Rio Grande Valley, where things stood for the immigrant student movement.
“The movement has changed tremendously in the past 15 years. Immigrants have gained tremendous lobbying power in the United States, not only here in the United States but also in Mexico. We have definitely labored and really used everything we have learned. We have learned it on the streets. No one came and told us how to lobby, how to organize. We had to learn how to have a board meeting. We had to learn how to tell an organization, we think you should expand your scholarships to undergraduate students,” Escobedo said.
“Now, we do not have to be on the streets as much. Of course, with this president we are protesting the presidency and protesting the policies, but the movement has also taken a different turn. Thanks to DACA we can sit at the table and push for policies and opportunities. Right now the movement is into everything, what it has learned in the past and what we learning every day. This presidency has taught us to do things differently and how to talk to people across the aisle. We have learned to take an insult and grown a really thick skin. We do not get rattled by the insults anymore.”
Escobedo’s confidence in dealing with federal lawmakers and corporate CEOs was strengthened by having a stint in the Washington, D.C. office of U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela of Brownsville. That would not have been possible had he not been a DACA recipient.
“Having DACA means not hiding any more from the government. We can say, this is what we can do to help the economy and American Society. It really does change the conversation. All of a sudden I had an opportunity to work in the United States House of Representatives. All of a sudden I can talk to a legislator and tell them, I have DACA. You cannot refer to immigrants in this way because I am one of them and I am standing before you. It is empowering, you can finally demand what we deserve.”
Like the other students at the Mexican Consulate’s office in McAllen, Escobedo gave thanks to Consul Bernal.
“The Mexican Consulate’s office is very much home for me. In terms of support, or anything to do with being Mexican, they are always here to help me. Right now it is about having to renew DACA. They are supporting us with our paperwork. Applying every two years, there is a cost to it, almost $500. For some, getting $500 is difficult.”
A native of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Escobedo was brought to the U.S. aged 15. He has been campaigning for immigrant rights almost ever since. Asked what having DACA means to him, Escobedo said:
“For me, having DACA is like having a taste of the American Dream. Being brought to the United States when I was very young and having to live through a time when there was no DACA, to go to college without it, DACA changed a lot of things. It allowed us to have a job, it allowed us to go to work. Rather work in a restaurant all night, we could get a job at the university. It is really empowering to explore those options, knowing, I am going to graduate and have a job.”
With different federal courts ruling different ways about DACA, Escobedo was asked what happens next.
“We keep fighting. As an immigrant, everyone has a different fight. My fight might be in the boardroom or with government, but another immigrant’s fight might be back home, teaching his or her family what it is like to be an American, what it is like to go to work and contribute to the country. Everyone has a different fight but everyone has a fight. No matter where you are in life, no matter your circumstances, do the best you can do. Just by doing that you are contributing to the movement in ways you cannot imagine.”
Asked if there were any particular Latino groups he would like to give a shoutout to, Escobedo said he wanted to thank those that went before him.
“I want to give a shout out to all the undocumented people who do not have DACA, who did not have the opportunity to get DACA. They are the backbone of the American economy and have allowed us 800,000 people to have these benefits. I want to tell them we are fighting for them too. Those who have been forgotten, those who have been left behind. I want to tell them we think about them every day. Thanks to their effort and support, this movement is what it is today.”
As there are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., Escobedo acknowledged he was giving a shoutout to a large number of people.
“They have given us this beautiful thing, this movement, and I hope we have shaped it in a way that they can be proud of. We have not forgotten about them. We are still fighting for them to be included. No matter what happens, we are together in this movement.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column in courtesy of PBS.