Since the election of President Trump, the future of students under DACA is unknown and many Dreamers are worried not only about what this means for their future, but also for the safety of their families.
Medical student Yazmin Irazoqui Ruiz remembers the moment when her world didn’t seem so certain anymore, just five days after President Trump’s inauguration.
“Jan. 25 was the first border security executive action, and that was the proof I needed to realize that Trump was going to go after what he said he was going to do,” Ruiz said.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was first enacted by the Obama administration in June 2012, and the UNM Dream Team estimates that there are approximately 500 undocumented students at UNM alone.
Trump’s hard-hitting executive order has awakened the long held dormant fears of the undocumented student population.
For Ruiz, this meant taking a leave of absence from the UNM School of Medicine.
“Before I took my leave of absence in February, I was doing fine, up until the inauguration," she said. "Then the border executive order happened...and that is where mental health plays a huge deal, not just in your own mental and emotional health, but physical health as well. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t focus. It was really difficult, because here I was studying for an exam — I felt wasn’t going to do anything for my community.”
Josue de Luna Navarro, a chemical and biological engineering student, understands what it’s like to sit in class attempting to learn, yet deal with more pressing things on his mind.
“It’s like your mind can’t stop because you’re in class learning about whatever it is you’re learning about, but what you’re learning about feels so disconnected to your real-life problems,” Navarro said. “You’re worried about the assignment and out-of-class real life issues, like ‘Are my parents going to be deported?’”
Although DACA holders are not protected against ICE and deportations, they are on lower priority on deportation lists and do have certain benefits.
One of the benefits is the ability to obtain a worker permit, which would allow the individual to work in the U.S. without the need of a social security number.
For one UNM alumni, who seeks to remain anonymous due to her work status, DACA afforded her the means to pay for college, as she could obtain a work permit.
“Prior to DACA I didn’t have a job, I didn’t want to risk anything by getting a fake identity or social (security number)," she said. "So, I paid for my undergrad through scholarships. The latest thing that DACA has done for me is the ability to be a counselor, get my Masters and work in a field that I’m passionate about. I was able to get my license with no problems, basically everything that a person needs to survive.”
Undocumented students not only face the pressure to maintain scholarships, but deal with the uncertainty of possibly having family members deported.
So much so, that the UNM Dream Team Field Coordinator Felipe Rodriguez has helped devise Deportation Protection Plans for students and their families.
“We are starting to implement deportation emergency plans, which includes a list of documents that will help families in case someone gets detained, to start a campaign to stop the deportation,” Rodriguez said. “We are still figuring parts of it out, but it’ll be through 'Know Your Rights” trainings.'”
With so much on the line, some say it seems almost impossible to have a moment of tranquility. For Navarro, he finds solace in meditation.
“I like to meditate to a point I don’t feel anything," Navarro said. “To the point where you are so relaxed you are almost floating. It’s just a way to kind of keep myself grounded and remind myself that I am a human being, and that in itself is powerful. This is something no immigration policy or fear can take away.”
For Ruiz, tranquility comes in the form of dancing “bachata,” a style of romantic music and dance from the Dominican Republic. She also finds solace in speaking Spanish and being a part of the Dream Team.
“I came back to the Dream Team," Ruiz said. "I had been gone for almost a year because of school and I came back to my people and my community because we are all experiencing the same thing in the same magnitude. We deal with it differently. Josue meditates; some people cling to their families. I have taken up dancing bachata in my living room. Just being in my culture and community has been very healing for me.”
Diana Cervantes is a photographer and news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Dee_Sea_.