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UNM community rallies alongside DACA students

Hundreds of University of New Mexico students, staff and faculty, including Anacaren Ruiz, third from left, and Jorge Guerrero, second from left, both UNM seniors, who hold a New Mexico Dream Team flag, march around campus, chanting in support of immigrants and DACA students on Tuesday. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Felipe Rodriguez is not afraid to tell his story.

Rodriguez, 23, is a psychology student in his last year at University of New Mexico. He’s also an undocumented immigrant — something he announced to hundreds of people in front of UNM’s administration building Tuesday.

The crowd — assembled as part of a campus walkout and rally organized by an immigrant rights group — responded with its full-throated support, following Rodriguez’s lead as he chanted: “I am somebody, and I deserve full equality. Right here. Right now.”

New Mexico Dream Team orchestrated the UNM gathering and several other around the state in response Tuesday’s news that President Donald Trump intends to scuttle DACA, an Obama-era policy that provides protection from deportation for some undocumented immigrants who are going to school and working.

That includes Yazmin Irazoqui Ruiz, who moved to the U.S. From Mexico with her single mother in 1995. She was 3 years old. Irazoqui Ruiz has since graduated from Del Norte High School, earned her bachelor’s degree and completed two years at the UNM School of Medicine.

Given the current political climate, the New Mexico Dream Team member said she decided to take a leave of absence this year to funnel her energy into fighting for immigrant rights. Irazoqui Ruiz said she was heartened by Tuesday’s event — at which people from across the UNM community rallied alongside DACA students — and that it reflected years of effort. Rally-goers held signs with messages like “Here to Stay” and “Professors for DACA” They chanted “Undocumented! Unafraid!”

UNM interim president Chaouki Abdallah, second from left, speaks to hundreds of University of New Mexico students, staff and faculty, who marched to the UNM president’s office chanting in support of immigrants and DACA students. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

“That support did not come out of nowhere. Students had been advocating for themselves and their peers, and we had allies who advocated for us,” Irazoqui Ruiz said in an interview. “It’s taken work.”

UNM does not maintain records on the number of DACA recipients on its campus, according to a spokeswoman.

But the campus’ two highest-ranking administrators made it clear Tuesday they should be able to stay. Interim President Chaouki Abdallah told the throng outside his office that the university was still trying to understand exactly how Trump’s decision would impact the UNM community. But he stressed that the school was working with other universities and leaders at the local, state and national level to push Congress to act to preserve the protections.

“The University of New Mexico supports DACA students — supports everyone who is on this campus,” Abdallah said to loud cheers.

“Thank you so much for what you’re doing,” he added. “And we’re with you.”

Paul Roth, chancellor of UNM’s Health Sciences Center, echoed those sentiments.

“The country needs you; our population in New Mexico needs you. We firmly stand behind your efforts,” he said.

Rodriguez does not qualify for DACA since his family immigrated to the U.S. From Mexico in 2012, years after the qualifying cutoff. That makes him more vulnerable to possible deportation.

But he said Tuesday that it’s important to make his presence known.

“The Trump administration is purposely trying to make us afraid again and go back into the shadows. A really big value of our movement is to come out of the shadows and be fearless,” he said. “… I don’t feel so much fear being part of the movement; you get a huge support system, as you can see, that will take action in case something happens.”

Irazoqui Ruiz expressed wariness about Congress’ willingness and ability to find a solution.

“But my faith is also not in Congress; my faith is in my community,” she said. “As you can see our people came out; our people are willing to fight. Documentation does not define us. We know that. We know that together we’re strong and we’re going to continue to fight.”

UNM’s student government issued a resolution Tuesday to show its support for undocumented students. It said the Associated Students of UNM “will not be silent while our undocumented peers struggle without an advocate to channel their voice.”

The resolution’s objectives include getting the UNM Board of Regents to add a “formal memo” to the school’s application to note that UNM gives DACA and undocumented students who meet the criteria can get in-state tuition and the lottery scholarship.

UNM awards state financial aid to all eligible students regardless of immigration status, spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair said.


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