Wyoming DACA students fight for a dream

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CHEYENNE, Wyo.- There's nearly 800,000 students in our country that are currently undocumented and in limbo, according to Executive Director of the Community College Commission, Dr. Jim Rose. Rose says Congress has less than six months to come up with an alternative after President Donald Trump had said he is ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

Rose says the challenge many years ago was to develop a more comprehensive immigration policy at the federal level, and it's one that's been debated by long numbers of congressional delegations and advocates, but it's never been successful. Under President Obama, Rose says an executive order basically established, for a time, the legitimate statue of these individuals. He added, "And that's why it's called 'deferred action,' because it was done kind of as a stopgap until a comprehensive immigration policy could be adopted."

Recently, the University of Wyoming along with Wyoming's seven community colleges endorsed the idea to urge Congress to come up with a reassurance for a continued opportunity and protection for these students. Rose said, "Many of them don't know another home," and added, "We really feel it's important to support them and acknowledge that they have essentially made commitments that should be honored."

Rose said the students in the program were required to fill out paperwork and pay a fee to become a Deferred Action student. He says there are more than 600 students in the state of Wyoming in a post-secondary institution that are potentially affected by this.

"They didn't have to feel threatened if they did enroll in a college and gave them information about their identity," Rose said. He added, "What I think now has become the case is that all those students know that they have gone through that process, that their records are out there." According to Rose, he says DACA gave those students some assurance that it wouldn't be used against them, but now that protection is being called into question.

Jose Rivas, a graduate student at the University of Wyoming, and his sister Sandra Loza, who recently graduated from the college, say it's important that they come out of the shadows and stand up for the many students whose future could be impacted by this decision.

The two siblings came from Texcoco, Mexico and were brought to Gillette, Wyoming with their family. Sandra said it wasn't until her 9th grade year when she decided to do sports that she realized she was undocumented. She said, "Growing up, you don't really understand. I didn't think I was different than anyone else."

Jose said his experience was similar. He didn't have plans to go to college and said, "I was just going to graduate high school and do what every other Wyoming immigrant does... work either in the food industry or the energy industry."

Although Jose found a way to attend Casper College his freshman year, it wasn't until he transferred to Gillette College that he hit another road-block. Jose realized he would not be able to exercise his degree, and decided he would go back to working in the oil field and pipeline industry. After suffering from an injury out in the field, Jose said it wasn't until 2012 that he found his ticket back into education when Obama announced DACA.

The brother and sister say education has always been very important in their family. Sandra said, "Education is power."

Even with their opportunity to attend college, both agree it's had its challenges. Rose says DACA students are not really eligible for student financial aid. Jose said, "We do not receive FAFSA, we do not receive the Hathaway scholarship that's offered to all high school graduates in the state of Wyoming." Rose says many of the students work additional jobs and have to find additional support systems.

The siblings say they're very grateful that the University of Wyoming has supported DACA students. Sandra says speaking up now is more important now with a decision approaching that could impact thousands of lives.

Sandra said it is the first time she is sharing her story publicly but added, "I can be speaking to you today, but if Governor Mead or Senator Enzi were to speak on DACA and support DACA, I think it'd have more influence."

Jose and Sandra both say their home is in Gillette. Jose added, "We are from Mexico, we are are from the United States, we're from both places." Jose added, "We are Wyoming Cowboys, we're Pokes, and like I like to tell folks, we're American in mind, heart and soul, we just don't have the proper documents to say that we are from here."