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DREAMers come out of the shadows with support from Nevada colleges

Shannon Miller
Shannon Miller
Candles on a table spell out DACA

Gloria Martin, a freshman at the College of Southern Nevada, is in the same boat as 12,280 other DACA recipients in the state — she worries what will happen if she is unable to renew her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. 

Being denied college admission, scholarships, certain jobs and health insurance are some of the things DREAMers worry about as the Senate deliberates whether to pass the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019. Without a clean DREAM Act, Nevada recipients and their 4,600 children worry that simply driving to work or to the grocery store could lead to their deportation. 

“I’m still 18 and my parents and my siblings are all younger than me. Who’s going to take care of them?” said Martin on Tuesday at the “Day Dreaming: The Untold Stories of DACA Students” event hosted by College of Southern Nevada Student Life and the student group Generation Dreamers.

Since the Trump administration announced in 2017 that it was ending DACA, the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) said it would continue to provide DREAMers access to college and support them. On Thursday, NSHE joined an amicus brief supporting University of California regents who are suing the Department of Homeland Security over its cancellation of the program, arguing that DACA students enrich college campuses and ending the program would adversely affect schools around the country.

CSN students Berenice Zuñiga, Veronica Galles and Gloria Martin at CSN North Las Vegas campus
CSN students Berenice Zuñiga, Veronica Galles and Gloria Martin at CSN North Las Vegas campus, Sept. 24 2019. Photo by Shannon Miller

Enacted in 2012 by executive order, DACA allows individuals under the age of 16 who came to the U.S. and have no criminal record to remain in the U.S. temporarily. In Nevada, DACA recipients are 27 years old on average.

News about mass raids and police contracting with ICE do not ease Martin’s worry. With no policy in place to deal with the children of deported parents, undocumented and mixed-status families have to accept they are susceptible to these experiences. 

“[Knowing] that [DACA] is no longer taking applicants and that it can be taken in the blink of an eye, makes it so scary,” said Veronica Galles, president of CSN’s Generation Dreamers student support club. “It feels like we have reverted to day one where you have DACA, but at any moment, [the government] can take that away from you, treat you like [you’re] undocumented and [make you] go back to your place.”

When DACA was enacted in 2012, more DREAMers opened up about their citizenship status without fear of being deported. 

“One struggle that I faced growing up is always hiding who I was. Something that I was always told is don't let them know who you are. Always being the shadows,” said Galles. “If anyone needs to know who I am, they need to know where I come from and what I’ve been through.” 

Generation Dreamers club president Veronica Galles
Generation Dreamers club president Veronica Galles address an audience at the event "Day Dreaming: The Untold Stories of DACA Students" at CSN, North Las Vegas on Sept. 24, 2019. Photo by Shannon Miller

Galles told the audience that her parents were very poor when they lived in Mexico and brought her, at 9 years old, and her two siblings to the United States. Growing up in the U.S., her days consisted of going to school in the morning and working at night.

“I would help my parents clean offices with my siblings,” Galles said. “I would come home at two in the morning, do my homework, wake up at six and go to school. That was my life growing up until high school.” 

With undocumented parents of DACA students unable to obtain work permits needed for better-paying jobs, increased financial burden is common among mixed-status families. Seventy percent of recipients who are students find themselves in the position of having to balance school with work in order to help their families make ends meet, according to a Guinn Center report

Martin, Galles and Berenice Zuñiga all noted that the DACA application process does not make those burdens any easier, citing renewal fees of $500 to $800 per person. 

“And this [application fee] is every two years … For my family, it was over $1,000 [to renew DACA],” Galles said. “My brother struggled a lot more than I did. He had to pick up extra shifts as a dishwasher, just so our family could afford the applications for my sister and myself.”

Zuñiga, who arrived in the U.S. at two years old and went through the application process when she was 14, recalled how her family pushed her to pursue the education and career she wanted, even though she feared her citizenship status would prevent her from achieving her goals.  

“Because a lot of us didn’t think that we [would] get into college, a lot of immigrants have stopped going to school,” Zuñiga said. “They [think], ‘What’s the point if I’m not even going to get into a good college? And once I have my degree, they’re not even going to let me into the career field.’”

Despite those doubts, Zuñiga worked hard in high school and saw it pay off. She is currently studying communications in her last year at CSN. 

“In 2012 [when DACA was enacted], it opened a lot of doors and opportunities. When I graduated high school, my parents were like, ‘You see? That's why you had to continue education!’” she said. 

DACA recipients are not eligible to receive federal financial aid, but Martin said she was fortunate to obtain alternate scholarships when applying to CSN, where she is currently studying business. Martin will continue working on renewing her DACA permit, which is scheduled to expire when she is a sophomore next year.  

Business student Gloria Martin after speaking at the College of Southern Nevada North Las Vegas campus
Business student Gloria Martin after speaking at the College of Southern Nevada North Las Vegas campus, Sept. 24 2019. Photo by Shannon Miller

According to a 2015 study, 92 percent of DACA recipients pursue education opportunities they otherwise couldn’t have, and 21 percent said DACA helped them buy their first car. Access to higher education is improving Nevada DREAMers’ ability to add to the $117 million in federal, state and local taxes that they already contribute. 

At the event on Tuesday, Michael Kagan from the UNLV Immigration Clinic advised anyone with DACA to focus on re-applying and not letting their status expire. Since Sept. 17, the clinic has assisted with 141 DACA renewals and plans to add an additional staff attorney to assist students and staff at UNLV and CSN.

This story was updated at 2:25 p.m. on Sept. 30, 2019 to correct the statement that DACA students are not eligible to receive the Nevada Promise Scholarship. SB350 passed in April and changed the law to allow DACA and undocumented students to apply for the scholarship.


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