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As DACA turns 12, Las Vegas youth urge Biden to better assist undocumented community

During a press conference, several speakers spoke about their experiences with DACA, a program whose fate may soon be determined by an appeals court.
Kelsea Frobes
Kelsea Frobes

Reyna Valdivias, a recent Nevada State University (NSU) graduate said that although she has a college degree in business administration, she works alongside her father in landscaping and construction. 

That’s because 12 years after it was created, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program remains enmeshed in the court system and closed to new recipients, precluding many immigrants illegally brought to the U.S. as children from getting work authorizations and pursuing their preferred careers. 

In 2017, when former President Donald Trump’s administration attempted to phase out DACA applications, Valdivias, member of the progressive immigrant advocacy group Make the Road Nevada, had just turned 18 and was too young to apply. Although DACA was reinstated in 2020, new applications were not being accepted. 

“I am a 110-pound girl lifting wheelbarrows [that] are heavier than my own weight,” Valdivias said at a press conference Monday at Make the Road Nevada’s office in Las Vegas, marking the program’s anniversary, which was originally created to “provide temporary protection from deportation and access to other opportunities including work eligibility” for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as kids. “You might think that the physical toll is the hardest part, but it's not. The hardest part is the emotional stress that comes from living in fear that one day my older siblings, parents and I can be deported from the country.” 

Bernardo Sanchez, another member of Make the Road Nevada and a student at NSU majoring in business administration, said that growing up, he had many aspirations such as being a Navy SEAL or obtaining a private pilot’s license or a real estate license. Sanchez said that these dreams were quickly cut short because of his legal status.

Speakers mentioned having an uncertain future and urged President Joe Biden to take action to help DACA recipients, such as exploring measures to modernize and strengthen DACA. Their calls came a day before Biden issued an executive order offering deportation protections to noncitizen spouses and children of U.S. citizens.

Several speakers said during the press conference they had issues enrolling in DACA because of age restrictions or due to the complete blockage of new DACA applications altogether. 

Mariana Sarmiento, a DACA recipient and undocumented educator in higher education, said that many students in Nevada are graduating with degrees but without work authorization, meaning they can’t be legally employed even amid the “severe shortage of health care and educational professionals in our state.”

Sarmiento said that “[DACA] families are here today because we refuse a future where our families are separated. And we refuse a future where students are banned from accessing employment and opportunity to grow.”

Michael Kagan, a law professor at UNLV and director of the UNLV Immigration Clinic, said that although he is not an immigrant himself, he has lived in Las Vegas for a lot less time than many of the undocumented immigrants who spoke at the press conference.

Kagan said that issues regarding DACA recipients are “not an issue that should be a Democrat and Republican thing,” and that he wants students to be worried about their next job interview and not whether their family will be able to stay together. 

Kagan also said that “the only potential cure for everyone would have to come through Congress” but that there are “things that the president can do immediately.”


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