By Lucero Benitez, COSS Communications Specialist
Thousands of people marched outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C. last week as oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program were heard.
Among them, Emily Rivas, College of Social Sciences ASI Senator and President of the Fresno State chapter Define American, a non-profit media and culture organization that uses stories to transcend politics and shift the conversation about immigrants, identity, and citizenship in a changing America. Along with two other students, Jenny Mandujano-Belman and Fernando Garcia, they joined thousands of people to voice the importance of keeping DACA.
Three cases heard on Tuesday, challenged the move to end the program, established in 2012 to provide work authorization and protection against deportation to about 700,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, including many college students known as “Dreamers.”
According to Fresno State’s President, Joseph Castro, the University currently serves almost 25,000 talented students, including an estimated 600 “Dreamer” students.
Rivas didn’t know how close she was to some of those students until DACA’s repeal in 2017. “I said I would do what I could to protect them, to elevate their status, and to show that they and other DACA youth were just as, if not more American than me,” said Rivas.
The opportunity of a lifetime came to her as the current president of Define American who was invited to Washington D.C. to hear the first presentation of DACA to the Supreme Court. National organization Coordinator, Valeria Rodriguez, personally invited all members of the newest Define American Chapter and referenced Rivas’ work, the work of their members and the need for their advocacy.
“By the end of that day, our trips had been paid for and hotel rooms booked. It happened so quickly, but for a reason, a reason bigger than myself, than our officers, than this campus,” Rivas said.
She shared what it was like to go on the 23-hour round trip and take part in the historical moment.
Why did you want to make the trip?
As a history major, political science tutor, and self-proclaimed feminist I felt like it was such a pivotal moment in history and in my personal life. As a history major, I always think “Imagine explaining this to my children one day”. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to one day be able to share that I made history among other advocates in favor of our peers who have worked so hard to be in this country. As a political science tutor, I felt it was my work living right in front of me. Policies being discussed, debated, and decided by the highest court in the country, it was extremely humbling and emotional just thinking of how important this moment was. As a feminist, I felt like I needed to be there, I needed to give myself the right to go, the right to let myself feel empowered as a woman, as a Latina, as someone’s daughter, sister, friend, and ally.
What does DACA mean to you?
DACA means so much to so many people. It is liminal status, but it’s some sort of tangible status. DACA recipients are students, parents, contributors to our economy, but most importantly, they are humans. They’re children who were brought to the U.S. through no fault of their own, or the individual who brought them. DACA is what this country is, and what this country has offered to so many individuals before it. What is often misconstrued is that DACA is solely a Latinx issue, but DACA is a worldly issue. There are individuals from all over the world, including Asia and Africa. DACA is a piece of hope for individuals who are just as American as I am. It’s the ability to work, live without fear, become someone in life, and live.
How did you feel taking part in the historic march?
I was very emotional in a way that is still hard for me to express. I felt like it was a full circle moment in my life. My dad, an immigrant from El Salvador has always been my inspiration in my work. He’s been a driving force in my advocacy work and in my relation to immigrants and their rights. Recipients discussed their parents fleeing countries like El Salvador, who at one point succumbed to political and social turmoil just like my dad. DACA recipients are children fleeing these situations, they were the products of parents moving them away from potential harm and trauma. I felt humbled by my privilege to not live in fear, to not have to leave all of my dreams, family, and potential in another country. I was humbled by my ability to work, travel freely, and my ability to represent a faction of my community that could have easily encompassed my dad. I sent my father a picture of myself holding a sign saying “Yo Soy Americano” (I am American). My dad, a man who ended up in the United States because of a civil war in his home country, sent me a picture of his Semi truck [his own start up business] with a sign that read “Yo Tambien Soy Americano” (I too am American). A man who had felt so lost in his own status, came to his own with that one message, with my act of advocacy. In Washington D.C., a man named Misael kept chanting “Inmigrante no te rindas” (Immigrant, don’t give up), a very powerful message for me, a first generation American.
What message did you share?
The main message I tried to get across, with the people I met [Texas Tech and Duke] was that as a citizen of the United States it was my privilege to expect more from this country. It was my duty to demand rights for those that live in fear. As a U.S. citizen, I am entitled to criticize and expect more from a nation that celebrates its “immigrant history.” I wanted my colleagues to know that I am an ally, I am someone they could count on, someone that could understand their plight through the experience of my own family members.
How do you feel now?
Still at a loss for words. There’s truly no way to explain how I feel. There’s so much work left to do. But so many individuals including myself, Jenny, and Fernando who are not resting until there is some sort of pathway to citizenship for our DACA, TPS, and refugee recipients. I’m hoping for a decision in favor of DACA, reinstating DACA, and once again opening it up to young immigrants in order to give them a fighting chance in this country. I also hope for some sort of comprehensive pathway to citizenship. As one testimony read, “It is not that we aren’t willing to stand in line, give us a line to stand in. It is unreasonable to think someone can live in political turmoil while they wait 20 years for a rejection letter.”
I want to thank Jenny Mandujano-Belman and Fernando Garcia for joining me on this journey for justice. Without their work and advocacy, this trip would not have been the same. I’d like to thank Valeria Rodriguez of Define American for her immense support in starting and sustaining this chapter at Fresno State and the College of Social Sciences for the unwavering support of myself and our DACA, TPS, Refugee and undocumented students on campus. I also want to thank my parents for raising a woman who knows herself enough to know her purpose in life.
Experts expect the Supreme Court to announce its decision some time before June 2020.
President Castro encourages DACA and other “Dreamer” students and their “UndocuAllies” to learn about resources and programs available through the Dream Success Center at Fresno State. Students interested in joining Define American, can email Emily Rivas at firstname.lastname@example.org
In this video, students share what the experience was like.