A Western High School senior who has plans to enlist in the Army but can’t get protections through DACA because the program is in limbo is among 50 DREAMers heading to Washington, D.C. this week to advocate for a fix.
Wilfredo Villeda, 17, is one of several dozen young people from around the country going on a three-day trip this week sponsored by the conservative-leaning LIBRE Initiative that will include visits with congressional representatives and a press conference with a coalition of other immigrant-focused groups. The trip comes days before the country faces another potential shutdown of the federal government as congressional Democrats continue to refuse to fulfill President Donald Trump’s demand for billions of additional dollars to fund a border wall.
One of Trump’s proposals last month was to give current DACA recipients three years of additional protections in exchange for border wall funding, but that was rejected by Democrats as too stingy. Groups including LIBRE also think the three-year extension isn’t enough to give DREAMers the kind of long-term stability that will help them flourish.
“We just want to create a sense of urgency that this needs to be acted on now, especially with this window — it’s the perfect opportunity for this issue to take center stage and to actually achieve a consensus that’s going to satisfy both sides,” Ronnie Najarro, a Nevada-based leader with LIBRE, said in an interview. “We’re willing and able to push for more border security … but we can’t just focus on that. We have to have also, for the DREAMers, letting them have permanent status and being able to plan their lives.”
LIBRE is making the push along with other organizations, including the National Immigration Forum, Americans For Prosperity and FWD.US, an advocacy group launched by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Villeda, who was brought to the country from his native El Salvador, has been unable to get DACA protections because the program is not accepting new applicants. His hope is to enlist in the Army and then attend college later on the G.I. Bill.
“There’s so many things that I’d like to do that I just can’t do,” he said in an interview about his life without DACA. “I feel like both parties have to come together and find a solution because I feel there are hundreds of thousands of kids in jeopardy.”
DACA has been subject to a series of lawsuits and debates in the courts since Trump took office and announced in 2017 that he was phasing out the program. Although Trump called on Congress to come to a solution on DREAMers within six months, the deadline came and went without such a fix.
Thousands of beneficiaries came out of the shadows when the Obama administration offered them legal status and work permits through an executive order creating DACA in 2012.
The LIBRE Initiative is a nonprofit organization that’s part of a network launched by the billionaire Koch brothers and aims to expose Hispanics to fiscally conservative and socially libertarian viewpoints. The group’s president says LIBRE isn’t dead-set against Trump’s calls for billions in border spending if DREAMers can benefit.
“Although our preference would be that it’s not necessarily a wall that’s going to strengthen the security in the border zone, why not use it as a concession to give 1.8 million of our children the security of having citizenship,” LIBRE Initiative President Daniel Garza said in a previous interview. “And it’s not that someone is in favor of the wall, or not, or whatever, but I’m in favor of giving citizenship to 1.8 million of our children. But now we know that there wasn’t anything, the negotiations have broken down and we return to the same thing, where it’s the same people making the same arguments, with the same poor result.”
Note: This story was updated at 10:25 a.m on Feb. 2, 2019 to correct the spelling of Wilfredo’s last name, and to clarify that the American Business Immigration Coalition is not participating in the DREAMers’ trip, according to information originally provided by LIBRE.