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Connecticut Students Face Uncertain Future As Supreme Court Takes On DACA

Frankie Graziano
Connecticut Public Radio
"This is a difficult time for many of us that are undocumented that have benefited from DACA," Yinera Lopez, a senior at ECSU, said Tuesday, the same day U.S. Supreme Court justices heard arguments on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

About 800,000 young undocumented immigrants have benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, since its inception in 2012, but now many of them are living and going to school in the U.S. with their status in doubt.

That’s because President Donald Trump wants to eliminate the program that protects them.

“This is a difficult time for many of us that are undocumented that have benefited from DACA,” said Yinera Lopez, 25, a DACA student at Eastern Connecticut State University.

DACA recipients enrolled at ECSU, who number at least 205, spoke out against the revocation of the program on Tuesday, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on DACA.

Lopez came here from Venezuela when she was 11. Now she’s the student government association president at Eastern.

“As I stand here today -- and I thank you for everything that you’ve done and everything that you continue to do to protect DACA -- I encourage you all to acknowledge that DACA is something that was not meant to be long term,” Lopez said. 

She not only wants DACA to continue -- she wants it improved. Under the program, deportation can be deferred, but the deferral has to be renewed, and that bothers Lopez.

“DACA is not something that enables us to move forward and know that we will be OK past the two-year mark,” Lopez said.

One of the people Lopez addressed was state Attorney Gen. William Tong, who showed up at Eastern to reaffirm Connecticut’s commitment to DACA. Two years ago, the state was one of 16 that sued the Trump administration to save the program.

“Connecticut is ... right now imploring the United States Supreme Court to find that the Trump administration’s rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, that their attempt to revoke DACA is unlawful and wrong and cruel and pointless,” Tong said.

If the Supreme Court were to rule against DACA, Tong said it would be an unfathomable loss for the students and their families.

Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Maria Elena Ruiz, a senior at Eastern Connecticut State University, wants to stay in Connecticut -- long after her DACA participation allows her to graduate from the university.

Maria Elena Ruiz wants to stay in Connecticut for good. She came to Georgia from Mexico when she was 6. When she was ready to head off to college at the University of North Georgia, she found out she’d received a full ride to ECSU in Willimantic.

“I am here almost four years later about to graduate -- so thankful that I am here [and] so thankful that I’m am in Connecticut, a state that does welcome refugees [and] undocumenteds,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz wants DACA to continue and not just for her. She wants others to experience the same good fortune she has had in Connecticut.

“There were others that came after us that didn’t have the opportunity to take advantage of the program,” Ruiz said.

“They are still in the shadows.”

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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