DACA recipients share their stories at Texas Tribune Festival

Sara Schleede

Maria Trevino-Rodriguez has always considered herself a Texan. She was born in Mexico, but her parents brought her to Houston when she was only 1 year old. Trevino-Rodriguez did not even know she was undocumented until she started applying for college. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has helped her secure a future, but she said she continues to struggle.

Trevino-Rodriguez and two other DACA recipients shared their experiences at The Texas Tribune Festival on Friday as part of the Diversity and Immigration panel series.

Trevino-Rodriguez, a student at the University of Houston, said applying to college as an undocumented student can add barriers that make higher education nearly unattainable. Because she was not a citizen, Trevino-Rodriguez could not apply for financial aid.

DACA began offering undocumented students deferred deportation in 2012, but students must pay $495 to apply and renew their status every two years.

“There’s still that economic barrier that doesn’t allow us that opportunity to reach that status,” Trevino-Rodriguez said.

President Donald Trump said he would rescind DACA on Sept. 5, 2017. Emelin S. Hernandez Reyes, a UT-Rio Grande Valley graduate student, said the announcement came less than a week after her status was renewed.

“I knew something was happening because my phone started buzzing like crazy during class,” Reyes said. “It hit me like a ton of bricks knowing that something that was part of my future was put on hold.”

The program has since been temporarily preserved by orders from several federal courts, but Texas led a lawsuit to restrict DACA earlier this year, despite having the second highest DACA student population in the United States. A federal judge declined the state’s request to put a hold on the program earlier this month.

“It hurts that they’re leading the charge to take us out and have all of our rights taken away again,” said Edras Alvarado, a DACA recipient and student at the University of Houston.

Trevino-Rodriguez said the struggle is even harder for parents of DACA students, who often wait decades for citizenship.

“We’re technically privileged,” Trevino-Rodriguez said. “We go to college. This is for our parents. This is for the people who are considered criminals for wanting a better life for our children.”

Trevino-Rodriguez said local policy will best help undocumented individuals, such as creating safe spaces at school for young children or establishing scholarships specifically for undocumented students.

“Citizenship is not our end goal,” Trevino-Rodriguez said. “Even if we become residents or citizens, we need to fight to make sure that actually means something.”