FHS students learn about DACA


Maggie Hendrix

Immigrant rights activist Mayra Esquivel speaks in the library about DACA on October 13.

Maggie Hendrix, Reporter

During advisory Friday, FHS students gathered in the library to learn more about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, and how it affects Northwest Arkansas. Springdale immigration attorney Kendron Benham spoke along with Mayra Esquivel, a DACA recipient and Immigrant Integration Director at Arkansas United Community Coalition.

Following President Donald Trump’s September decision to rescind DACA, the status of many undocumented young people has been uncertain. DACA was established by an executive order in 2012 to protect undocumented people who immigrated to the US before turning 16. While DACA does not provide a path to legal permanent residence or citizenship, it allows its recipients to receive drivers’ licenses, enroll in college, and work legally for two years prior to renewal.

To qualify for DACA, an applicant must be attending school, have a high school diploma, or be a military veteran, as well as maintain a clean criminal record. Benham advised students, “Don’t drink and drive. It really is the number one way to lose your DACA status.” Applicants must also have resided in the US since 2007, and they must have been under 31 when the program was established in 2012, according to CNN.

This summer, 10 state Attorneys General, including Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, urged President Trump to rescind DACA by September 5. His decision to phase out the program left young undocumented immigrants unsure of their futures.

Mayra Esquivel shared her story with students on Friday. Born in La Blanca, Zacatecas, Mexico, she entered the US at three years old and didn’t learn that she was undocumented until she was 16. After graduating from high school in Fort Smith, she planned to attend the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. The tuition was expensive, “but it was okay because I was going to get scholarships.” At Esquivel’s high school graduation, her scholarships weren’t announced, and she later called the school to make sure that there were no problems with the scholarships she had earned. She was informed that, though she could still attend the university, she would not receive any aid due to her citizenship status. Esquivel said of her experience, “I was devastated, all this work for nothing, all those sacrifices that my parents made.” Despite this setback, Esquivel graduated in seven years and now works at a Springdale-based immigrant rights nonprofit.

Esquivel and Benham recommend that students concerned about their status maintain strong academic performance and good behavior. Although DACA has been rescinded, there are efforts in Congress to replace the program. If they succeed, undocumented youth may still be protected from deportation.

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