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Fighting for a dream

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Hundreds of young Americans, including more than 200 New Mexicans, are traveling to Washington, D.C., to demand the passage of a “clean” Dream Act free of harsh requirements and enforcement provisions before Dec. 22.

The group, many affected by the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program, is traveling by bus and left from the South Valley on Saturday afternoon.

It’s estimated that 7,000 people living in New Mexico are benefitting from the DACA program, established under President Barack Obama, that allowed those brought illegally to the country as children to temporarily work, attend college and live without fear of deportation.

Cesar Mares, 16, left, and Antonio Serna, 16, both of Santa Fe, prepare to board a bus with around 200 other immigrants and immigrant activists from around the state who are traveling to Washington, D.C. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

That number will dwindle as more and more people lose their DACA protection, as President Donald Trump announced in September that the program would end in March 2018.

Lizzeth Sandoval, a 20-year-old college student and DACA recipient from Las Cruces, responded without pause when asked how many days she has left: “236.”

Sandoval enrolled in the program last year and said it changed the way she lives her day-to-day life.

“Now that I have DACA, I feel protected,” she said. “I don’t want to live in fear. I don’t want to go back to the shadows.”

The trip was organized by the New Mexico Dream Team, an affiliate of United We Dream.

The New Mexico group will meet up with more than 1,000 other United We Dream members once in the capitol to call for action from Congress, Dream Team spokesman Isaac De Luna said, particularly on a Dream Act proposed by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Wendy De La Cruz cups her hands around her mouth as she and others chant before loading four buses to travel to the nation’s capitol to call on Congress to pass a Dream Act before Dec. 22. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

“The Dream Act is the best bipartisan solution that we have seen,” De Luna said. “It would protect all the people who currently have DACA, and it would also open up an opportunity for more people who didn’t qualify for DACA to gain protection from deportation.”

The hope is to get the Dream Act tacked onto a spending bill that Congress will try to pass this week.

New Mexico’s congressional delegation has been largely supportive of some form of a DACA fix.

While speaking on the Senate floor earlier this week, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., argued that not replacing DACA would be disastrous not only for the young people directly affected, but also for the state’s economy.

“New Mexico would lose nearly 6,000 DACA workers and take a $385 million hit we simply cannot afford,” he said.

Michelle Soto of Albuquerque came into the United States from Mexico in 2009 when she was 9, two years after the cutoff year to qualify for DACA.

Now 16, she worries that without a DACA replacement enacted, she won’t be able to attend college.

“I promised my dad when I came from Mexico that I would get an education, that I was going to work hard to be somebody,” she said. “It breaks my heart that might not happen just because I don’t have a nine-digit (Social Security) number.”

He died two years after she arrived in the U.S., and her undocumented status meant she was unable to return to Mexico to say goodbye.

With the passage of a Dream Act, she hopes to gain protections and lose the constant fear of deportation.

“I want to make him proud, wherever he is,” she said.