In the early morning on the busy streets of downtown LA back in September, there was a rally put together by members of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) in the morning in front of the Edward Roybal federal building. There were people slowly driving by in traffic honking at the crowd and waving their hands showing support. Union members, community group leaders from various groups like Undocumedia, allies, as well as LA County supervisor Hilda Solis spoke at the podium, voicing their anger towards the decision. In contrast, there were a small group of supporters for the repeal of DACA rallying across the street.
In the crowd, there was 19-year-old Itayu (who chose not to reveal her last name). She was wearing all black with her CHIRLA t-shirt, with long, curly brown hair, and a cheerful smile, mingling with her CHIRLA partners. She is a DACA recipient who’s from Los Angeles that moved to Maryland for school, but came back to go to PCC for a semester in political science. Once she heard the announcement, she wasn’t ready to open up to her parents about her feelings on the decision made.
“I was comfortable, but I wasn’t open about it with my parents because it was just awkward,” Itayu said in regards to how she felt about the announcement. “But they’ve been in my shoes, so they understand.”
When Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program back in September, there were dozens of protests across the country in response. Most people already saw it coming because president Donald Trump made it known that he wanted to kill the program. In California alone, this decision has affected at the minimum of 200,000 people statewide (100,000 in Southern California), who are supported by the program.
She heard the announcement through CNN. She, as well as many other DACA recipients, saw this coming. It was no surprise to her, but the fact that Sessions delivered the blow was what upset her, since Trump initially mentioned that he was going to announce his decision.
Itayu was born in Mexico, but her parents brought her to Los Angeles when she was six months old, where she would be raised her entire life. She played soccer in middle school for the AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) on a traveling team. Once she finished there, she went to the Marc and Eva Stern Math and Science School. Her sister, a US citizen, went to the LA County High School for the Arts. Both high schools are located on the Cal State University of Los Angeles (CSULA) campus.
Right after high school, Itayu moved on to go to Hood College, a private school in Frederick, Maryland. She was there for a year, but left to return to California because she wasn’t sure about what her future held due to DACA being on the table for repeal. She enrolled for the fall semester at PCC, but she’s currently indecisive on whether or not she wants to work or apply for scholarships. In the meantime she’s still figuring out her options.
She then joined the California Dreamers Network (CDN) and also joined CHIRLA, where she met Melody Klingenfuss – the CDN statewide youth organizer at CHIRLA. During her summer at CDN, Itayu participated in a number of workshops to prepare for, if and when ICE agents would come knocking on her door. The program also taught her about the law and the bills that have been passed under the Trump administration. She even did some field work with Klingenfuss.
“The second half of the internship we got divided into different fields (policy, communication, organization), so I was put into ‘organization’ with Melody,” Itayu said. “We were organizing different types of rallies and protests. It was really eye-opening because I didn’t imagine myself doing this. I think when I was young I didn’t really see myself protesting, but I’m glad I’m doing it.”
Itayu found out she was undocumented at a really young age because her mother would give her subtle hints about it. For example, Itayu would mention that she would want to go to Mexico to visit, but her mother would respond that if she was to go, she wouldn’t be able to return.
“I feel like she didn’t know how to say it because my sister’s a US citizen,” Itayu said.
Slowly but surely, it was revealed to her that she was limited to the things that she could be a part of if she was a citizen. Her soccer team was qualified to play in a Thanksgiving championship in Tennessee. She asked her mother if she could go with her teammates to compete, but her mother told her that she couldn’t go because she didn’t have identification. She has a birth certificate, but it is from Mexico.
“Most of my teammates were like, ‘why aren’t you coming’,” Itayu said. “My excuse would always be because of money, but my coach knew [my situation] because he was a lawyer.”
In June 2012, former president Barack Obama signed DACA into life, giving temporary relief to young undocumented persons from deportation while giving them eligibility for a work permit. Two years later, Obama tried to expand the program to cover additional undocumented immigrants, but was blocked by the courts after many states immediately sued to prevent the expansion. After the September announcement, Trump gave Congress a six month window to figure out how to deal with the program and its 800,000 recipients.
“I didn’t really know about it until it passed; I was still in middle school,” Itayu said recalling how she heard about DACA while starting high school. “Little by little I was informing myself. My parents knew more about the program than I did.”
They were the ones who told her to sign up.
Once Itayu became a DACA recipient, she was able to get a work permit. She also applied for many internships and was able to get health care and identification which led her to go to school at Hood College. She’s thought of wanting to be a senator, but is unsure whether or not she wants to work in government,at least while this administration is in power.
Although Hood is ‘supportive’ of DACA students, she feels the school doesn’t provide enough resources for them, such as financial aid, or a center where they should feel safe. According to her, it’s difficult to gain support from other minority groups because there’s a lack of representation there since the school’s population is mostly Caucasian. She believes that there’s a big “group of people that are DACA students” on campus, but because the topic of discussion about DACA has been put into the spotlight, “they’re in the shadows”.
“They’re in deep,” Itayu said.
If Itayu decides to return to Hood, she plans on making a resource center there for DACA students. She’s in the process of trying to get the school to provide resources for the Dreamers like a scholarship or a ‘Dreamers’ grant. She feels that it isn’t fair that the school could provide a Hood college grant, “…and a recognition award, but you don’t provide all these other resources.”
“(At the) back of my school there’s a classroom where I could just make it a center, but I’m trying to see where I can make it a center,” Itayu said. “If anything I could have the center in the Tatem where they have the foreign languages and psychology…”
She wants to connect Hood with the program here in California, since it’s mandatory for the CSUs and the UCs to have a Dream center on all campuses. The goal is for Itayu to bring the knowledge she’s obtained here in Los Angeles and apply it out in Maryland, in hopes that the DACA awareness would spread around to other campuses. Thanks to Klingenfuss for her overall knowledge of activism, CHIRLA, and CDN, Itayu is in great hopes for the Dream center to happen.
“If it does end up happening I could end up staying here (in LA). I could announce it, send emails, or do posters,” Itayu said. “…if I was going back this semester I was definitely going to be putting DACA out there.”
Despite the current climate of this political system and the amount of pressure DACA recipients are currently facing, Itayu says the best thing anyone can do right now is to know their rights, gather as much information as they can, and get involved.
“Don’t be scared to look for different resources like counseling because it’s gonna help alot… or just get involved with different organizations,” Itayu said. “They thought we’re going to be in the shadows but in reality we’re fighting more than we did before.”