Dreamers Break Down DACA


Angel Cruz (SY) helps to welcome attendees to the DACA information meeting.
Angel Cruz (SY) helps to welcome attendees to the DACA information meeting.

Sunday, February 9, 3p.m. and the SBP cafe was desolate. Director of Strategic Initiatives Erin Sweeney was speaking with counseling intern Dominick Canova. Their eyes shared a subtle, yet frantic sparkle. Where was everybody?

Over the course of a half an hour, nearly 20 people began to trickle in, huddling around two bags of pretzels and cookies. Soon everyone migrated towards the seats facing a screen that read “Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA).”

DACA is a multi faceted memo sanctioned by President Barack Obama that would prevent undocumented students under the age of 16  from deportation. It would also allow them to get some government documentation including a drivers’ license and social security number. Because it is a memo and not a piece of legislation, DACA can be revoked at any moment.

Yves Nibungao, head of New Jersey’s chapter of Own the Dream, an organization aimed at raising DACA awareness, asked attendees to register with senior Angel Cruz. Once the crowd was situated, the presentation began.

To start, two students shared their story with the crowd. First, an Essex County Dream Team member recalled leaving her sister behind in Mexico, to cross the border.  She became an anomaly in a predominantly white Virginia school.   Being an undocumented student continued to loom over her after moving to New Jersey, and beginning the college process. Not only was she unable to afford college, but she was denied the opportunity to serve in the military – her primary goal. “Recruitment officers weren’t willing to break the law, so that I could join,” she said.

Carlos Vega (SY) speaking during the information meeting.
Carlos Vega (SY) speaking during the information meeting.

Next, senior Carlos Vega spoke powerfully about America being his only home because he left Mexico at the age of four. With his parents slow to get his DACA forms and a government shutdown moments after he was eligible for a social security number, the road to citizenship was tedious for Carlos.

Angelo Mathay, a DACA Law Fellow at the National Immigration Law Center, held a question and answer session regarding the legal aspects of the process. “I really believe in increasing the number of DACA applicants. It is important so that people can be full participants in the American Dream,” he said.

Congressman Donald Payne Jr. offered his support through Director of Constituent Services Michael Gray. “We recognize that many people within Congressman Payne’s district are affected by this,” he said.

In New Jersey there are 12,000 people  who should apply for DACA. “There’s a lot of work to be done,” Yves said.

Yves hopes to spread the word by contacting local Dreamers chapters and establishing information sessions throughout the state. Carlos and Angel have been spearheading the Gray Bee Dreamer chapter. After going through the DACA process himself, he contacted Ms. Sweeney about helping other students  “We got involved with N.J. DACA, which is the bigger organization,” Carlos said.

The small turnout at the information session was a reflection of the trouble that they’ve had recruiting inside the school. “Outside of school we have done a substantial amount of work,” Carlos said, “We’re trying to get the list which is like 30 [of undocumented students in the school], but people are too scared to speak up.”