Hundreds of young people who were brought into the U.S. as kids without citizenship status attend colleges around New Mexico. Many were shielded from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. President Trump announced the end of DACA Tuesday, Sept. 5, and will begin phasing out the program in March, which will affect 800,000 recipients nationwide.
Hundreds of people marched at the University of New Mexico campus Tuesday afternoon to demand equality and rights for immigrant students.
Demonstrators at UNM chanted “undocumented, unafraid.” They marched through campus to the university president’s office to deliver a message.
"Today is a very sad day," said Zoila Alvarez, a third-year law student at UNM. "It’s a step back."
The uncertainty will be devastating to the peace of mind and identity of DACA recipients at the law school, she said. "Having this program taken away is really going to jeopardize not only their mental health," she explained, "but their pathway into being able to practice law."
The immigrant community is resilient and will push through, Alvarez said. "This will not break us. DACA was a Band-Aid. It wasn’t amnesty. It wasn’t comprehensive immigration. It wasn’t the Dream Act. It was a Band-Aid."
Yazmin Irazoqui-Ruiz led the crowd through chants and shared her personal history. "Our parents and our families are the original dreamers," she told them. She said she’s not any more worthy of protection than the family members who got her here. "Our families were not covered with DACA," she said, "And now is the time to come together and continue to fight for more than DACA."
Irazoqui-Ruiz is a medical student and DACA recipient. She said Congress needs to get it together and pass something more permanent that helps even more people.
"The very first thing that people need to do is stop talking about us without us," she said. "They need to bring the people who are directly affected to the table. Because we know what the community is facing. And we know what the solutions are."
"The removal of this puts all these people at risk," biochemistry major Eduardo Esquivel said. "It harms the economy and the effects are going to be unprecedented." Despite that risk, Esquivel said immigrant students and their allies will refuse to fall into the trap of fear. "We will not go back into the shadows. And we just want to let everyone know that this is our home and that we are here to stay."
UNM’s Interim President Chaouki Abdallah said the university will work with Congress to create a more permanent system to shield undocumented students.
"We follow the rules and regulations, and today, DACA students remain protected—the ones who are in this position," Abdallah said. "But, you know, future ones will not be and what we’re trying to do is make sure that those laws are protecting everybody and to make them permanent."
Will UNM create policies on its own to further protect people on campus? Abdallah wouldn’t say.
Vice President for Student Affairs Cheo Torres said he wants dreamers to stay in the U.S. and not just because this is the only country many of them have known. "We already have engineers, teachers, lawyers and physicians that are dreamers," he said, "and what a shame what this country is doing to these wonderful students."
Torres said somewhere between 500 and 1,000 DACA students are enrolled at UNM.
Just a mile or so away from UNM is Central New Mexico Community College where Dr. Kathie Winograd has been the president for 12 years. She said Trump’s announcement created a tense mood.
"We have a lot of very fearful students who are truly trying to improve their lives and create a better situation for their children who are often citizens of the United States," Winograd said.
Like UNM President Abdallah, Winograd said CNM is a public institution that’s required to follow the law, but she’s hopeful Congress will create new law over the next six months to protect undocumented students.
KUNM reached out to Garrey Carruthers, the chancellor at New Mexico State University. He was also once a Republican governor of the state. In a memo, he wrote that NMSU stands with students and employees who are part of DACA. Find his full statement here.