Charleston ‘Dreamers’ Fearful, Defiant at DACA End

Juan Bernardino, 25, Marisol Hernandez, 23, Karla Bernardino, 19, and Diana Brito, 21, rally to support DACA outside the North Charleston City Hall on Sept. 5.

For many College of Charleston freshman, the start of this school year was the culmination of a lifelong dream, and a stepping-stone in the pursuit of other dreams. Clad in a red, white and blue headband, Diana Brito confidently approached the gathered audience and spoke about her dream. “My dream,” she said, “is to get my bachelor’s degree from the College of Charleston and my masters from MUSC in Dietetics.” For Diana, this dream has been complicated by one fact that sets her apart from most of her peers: she was brought to America seventeen years ago as an undocumented immigrant.

Diana and around 40 others were at the North Charleston City Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 5 to protest the Trump Administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program. Under DACA, an Obama-era program, undocumented immigrants who arrived in America before they were 15 are allowed to live, work, and go to school without fear of being deported. The Trump Administration announced that it would end DACA within six months. This decision came after ten state attorney-generals, including South Carolina attorney-general Alan Wilson, threatened to sue the Trump administration if DACA was not rescinded by Sept. 5. Diana is one of 800,000 DACA recipients, known as ‘Dreamers’, who are protected under DACA. As of 2016, there were 10,704 DACA recipients living in South Carolina.  

DACA enjoys widespread support from Americans, including many lawmakers. “These kids are not taking jobs from American citizens, they’re part of our country,” Senator Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) told NBC’s “Today” Show on Wednesday.

A memo circulating from the Trump administration urged DACA recipients to use the next six months to “prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States”.  For many, this means leaving the only home they have ever known. Marisol Hernandez, 23, came to the United States from Mexico 21 years ago. “Before DACA, it was scary and uncertain,” Marisol said. “I didn’t know if just going to the grocery store, if my parents would come back.” Marisol is currently a server at a restaurant and has started her own cleaning business. She worries about the future of her business. Marisol, and other ‘dreamers,’ pay  taxes and may into social security, but are ineligible to receive any welfare or government benefits. “I don’t mind, I just want to be here and to be left alone,” she said.

Diana arrived from Mexico 17 years ago, at the age of 5.  She wants to study biology at the College of Charleston, but DACA recipients must pay out-of-state tuition and are not eligible to receive federal or state financial aid. She earned her associates degree at the Culinary Institute of Charleston, paying for tuition and living expenses without any financial aid. Her dream is to study at MUSC to become a dietitian to help low-income families learn how to eat healthier. “I really just want an education, a chance to help everyone, a chance to be a better person in every aspect of my life”, Diana said. “There are many DACA students who just want to help our communities.”

Gaston, 22, arrived at the rally with an American flag draped around his neck. He came to America when he was six from Argentina. “When we first got approved these papers, everything opened up for me. I couldn’t go to school, I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t do anything. Now I can drive, I can pay taxes. I’m going to school to be a culinarian.” Like many dreamers, the immigration status of Gaston’s family is mixed. His younger brother was born here and is an American citizen, while three of his sisters are DACA recipients. His parents are undocumented. Deportation threatens splitting up his family.

The fates of Diana, Gaston, and Marisol are now in the hands of Congress. Congress has six months to pass legislation protecting dreamers, a feat that it has failed to achieve despite numerous attempts in 16 years. In July, Sen. Graham and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Il) re-introduced the DREAM act, which would grant DACA recipients legal permanent residence and a path to citizenship. In these six months, the lives of Diana, Gaston, Marisol and hundreds of thousands of others like them hang will hang in the balance.

No matter what happens, these dreamers all make it clear they will not go back into the shadows. “I’ve been here for 21 years and I’m not going anywhere,” Marisol says. “We’re here supporting the American dream and American society. I just want everybody to know that we’re not going to give up.” Diana is still pursuing her dream of attending the College of Charleston, “I will become that American citizen one day, God-willing, that is going to help this country be great. We will fight, we will not be  intimidated by anyone. “

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