Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Yazmin Irazoqui Ruiz told members of Congress on Wednesday that she felt as though her dream of becoming a physician was slipping away when the Trump administration decided to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Like the two other DACA recipients, or “Dreamers,” and a Temporary Protected Status holder who testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, she said she has lived in fear of being deported.
They appeared before the committee to lobby for a law that would grant DACA recipients and TPS holders permanent status and a pathway to citizenship. The hearing was the first of its kind since Donald Trump became president.
Ruiz, a third-year student at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, said during the hearing that her mental health “was shot” after the decision was made to end the DACA program in 2017.
“Here I am once again, having worked hard and made it to medical school and was facing the reality of having a future career as a physician being pulled out from under me,” she said.
Ruiz said she wasn’t alone in feeling that her dreams were in jeopardy.
“While I am on my way to becoming a physician, I know that others with DACA, TPS and DED (Deferred Enforced Departure) protections have started careers, bought homes, started families,” she said. “And here we were facing all of that being taken away.”
Ruiz and others like her have gotten a reprieve because of court challenges that have temporarily halted Trump’s efforts to end the program.
Under DACA, roughly 700,000 participants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children or came with families that overstayed visas received a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and became eligible for work permits in the United States.
Ruiz told lawmakers that she, her twin sister and mother immigrated to the United States when she was 3 under visitors’ visas. They originally settled in Phoenix.
She said she learned of her immigration status when she was 16, after her mother suffered a stroke.
“In the blink of an eye, our biggest concerns went from student government and grades to living with the burden of wondering whether our mother would survive and whether ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents or Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio would tear our family apart,” Ruiz said.
Her family sought the advice of an attorney, who told them: “In this country, you are no one, and in this country, you do not exist. You will never be able to attend college.”
Fearing deportation, Ruiz said, the family decided to move to Albuquerque.
And despite being told she would never go to college, Ruiz made plans to attend college, anyway.
Ruiz said she faced obstacles before the DACA program was created under President Barack Obama in 2012.
She said financial aid was limited, and she turned down a scholarship at New Mexico State University because it was too close to the border.
Ruiz earned a bachelor of science degree from UNM. She said DACA made her life easier.
“After that, life changed for me and many immigrant youth,” she said. “I had access to different jobs, I could move freely in the U.S. I could finally breathe a sigh of relief.”
Ruiz said she knows what life is like for others without DACA. “I see it every day,” she said.
“With the New Mexico Dream Team and United We Dream, young people and allies brought counseling to the community because children were terrified, fearful that their parents would be taken away by Trump and CBP (Customs and Border Protection) and ICE,” Ruiz said.
Trump has linked extending protections for DACA recipients with proposals to build a wall along the Mexican border.
Ruiz urged lawmakers not to support such a move, expressing concerns that it would place her mother and others like her in danger.
“I know that some say that young people with DACA should be protected for a price,” Ruiz said. “They call for more immigration enforcement, which would put my mother in danger in exchange for my safety.”
The Trump administration and others have questioned whether Obama had the authority to create DACA by an executive branch memorandum in the first place.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the program “unconstitutional” and argued that the program would not withstand a court challenge. At the time, Republican attorneys general from 10 states were challenging DACA in court.