On Wednesday, October 4, Kean University hosted Dreaming of an Immigration Solution: What do we do with DACA?, a panel discussion addressing contemporary issues in U.S. immigration law and policy. Kean history Professor Frank Argote-Freyre led the panel in examining President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and its effect on the Kean community and the world. DACA allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to defer deportation and receive work permits.
“The whole idea of having a talk on DACA began last year after we had a speaker series on the impact of the Trump administration on a variety of issues in our nation,” said Argote-Freyre. “I have been involved in the struggle for comprehensive immigration reform for about 20 years. One of the things that we achieved was to get in-state tuition for the Dreamer kids.”
President Obama created the DACA program in 2012, but it was recently terminated by President Trump, who called on Congress to legislate a solution for childhood arrivals. There are approximately 800,000 DACA recipients in the United States. Argote-Freyre estimates that more than 200 attend Kean University.
Sarah Compion, executive director of general studies, introduced a panel of speakers closely connected to immigration, including Freehold High School student Yeimi Hernandez, DACA recipient Alvaro Aguilar, attorney Ana Yngelmo and bi-lingual paraprofessional Ana Ventura.
Ventura described her border crossing at eight-and-a-half as “a very traumatizing experience,” but one for which she is now grateful. For many years she was reluctant to reveal her immigration status, and she considers her participation on the panel as her “coming out.”
Aguilar has taken the path of civil disobedience in the fight for his citizenship rights, supporting immigration reform as an activist and community organizer.
University of Pennsylvania and Seton Hall Law School graduate Ana Yngelmo is a Cuban immigrant who moved to Elizabeth, N.J. at the age of four. Yngelmo provided an overview of the legal landscape surrounding DACA going back to the 1800s.
Freehold High School student Yeimi Hernandez came to the United States at the age of one. “What happens to Yeimi when DACA ends?” asked Freyre.
Hernandez dreams of attending college in the United States and plans to apply to schools, although her future in this country is now uncertain. She hopes to one day become an immigration attorney and eventually join the FBI.
“I don’t like using the word illegal. I consider myself a human being,” said Hernandez. “I was told at times, ‘You will never become anything because you have no documentation.’ The only thing that I can think of right now is to fight. Peacefully, not violently, because we do have a voice. Our words are weapons of good.”