Nery Lopez, 23, was one of several thousand undocumented immigrants rallying and protesting in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C. on Tuesday last week.
Lopez and a delegation of about 70 others from Florida drove 18 hours to witness oral arguments and hear stories from many like them on the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). This program was established in 2012 under the Obama administration and promised to temporarily protect from deportation individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Lopez was just 4-years-old when her parents brought her to the U.S. from Veracruz, Mexico.
Since taking office, President Donald Trump has strongly opposed the DACA program. In 2017, he threatened to end the program arguing it is unconstitutional. The lower courts blocked his action to rescind DACA and the program made its way to the Supreme Court.
Lopez, a Florida International University graduate currently working with the the statewide immigrant justice coordinator of the Florida Student Power Network, joined Sundial along with Laura Wides-Muñoz, the author of the book, “The Making of a Dream,” which outlines the history of the DACA movement and shares the stories of DREAMers.
This transcription has been edited lightly for clarity.
WLRN: Nery, what does it mean to be a DACA recipient?
LOPEZ: It signifies the opportunities I have. As someone who wasn't born here [in the U.S.] and who came for a better life through my parent's sacrifice, it represents a lot of choices that I didn't have before. This [country] is everything I know. It represents my ability to have been able to graduate from a university in Miami, to be able to have a drivers license and to know that there is a future for me in this country.
Laura, how did the idea of DREAMers even develop?
WIDES-MUÑOZ: It's interesting. The moniker comes from the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act. That was a bipartisan bill that was first proposed back in 2001 under the Bush administration. Its first day in hearings was supposed to be September 12, 2001 and obviously, with 9/11, that never happened. But I had heard about these young people and it really wasn't until 2009 in Miami when I met a group of Miami Dade College students who were so frustrated with the gridlock in Washington, Congress's inaction, and a president who had come into office and promised to do immigration reform and then hadn't. They were just going to do something big to get attention to their plight. They decide to walk from Miami to Washington. By the time they arrived, walking through the middle of winter, all the way up north in Washington, they had garnered international attention and really reinvigorated the immigration movement.
What did the creators of DACA think about how this would play out?
There was a pretty big consensus that eventually Congress would vote on some bill, whether to pass the Dream Act for these young people or a more expanded immigration reform into law. And yes, they knew this [DACA] was temporary. Even in the Supreme Court case now they keep saying one of the reasons the government wants to get rid of it is because it was never supposed to be permanent and it wasn't. The problem has been Congress has refused to act, even though more than 70 percent of the country wants these young people who've grown up here to have some path to permanency.
Nery, there's still that reality that sits above you. That [DACA] could go away. What does it mean? How do you do it?
LOPEZ: I have to really put in my mind that things are going to happen. I don't have full control of that, but I do have control of the education I got, the knowledge I have gained and the people around me who support me. I have a choice to continue to fight. I'm very involved actively and in the political world right now. I work with a fellowship of many students who are very passionate about these issues. That right there fills my heart because it tells me, it's not just me. I am fighting for all the other kids who are also bringing the ideology that migration is beautiful. People should be allowed to have opportunities without being criminalized.