End of DACA brings concern for some Liberty ‘dreamers’
- Trump administration decision on DACA leaves Liberty students and alumni DACA recipients concerned for their future.
- Recipients ask fellow Liberty students to remember that they are humans, too.
For the past five years, the Obama-era program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has prevented almost 800,000 young adults who illegally immigrated to the U.S. as children from being deported.
According to Liberty University’s International Student Programs, 10 of these DACA recipients are students at Liberty.
Liberty senior Abi Urrutia Morales and her younger sister have been able to attend Liberty through benefits received from DACA. Two weeks ago, President Donald Trump announced the plan to cancel DACA and let Congress address the issue within six months, possibly limiting these possibilities for students like Urrutia.
“At first, I didn’t believe it,” Urrutia said. “But when I heard there was a process to get rid of it, I started crying because I thought that I’d have to go back to the shadows.”
Bruno Yupanqui Tovar, a high school English teacher and 2016 Liberty graduate, remembered being at work as he watched Attorney General Jeff Sessions announce the end of the program that had enabled him to build a relatively secure life in the U.S. for the past five years.
“From the moment I saw him walk in with a smile on his face, I was almost empty,” Yupanqui said. “And then he said the words. I had to take a moment and go to my car and cry for a couple of minutes.”
Through the DACA program, these immigrants have applied for work permits, earned their driver’s licenses and paid income taxes. According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, immigrants who apply for the program must have a clean criminal record and be current students, high school graduates or honorably discharged veterans.
William Wegert, dean of International Student Programs, said while the end of DACA would put students like Urrutia at risk for deportation, their status at Liberty would remain the same.
“As far as their enrollment at Liberty (goes), nothing would immediately change,” Wegert said. “There might be secondary effects, like, I can’t work anymore, so therefore I cannot afford Liberty—but there wouldn’t be any action Liberty would take.”
Urrutia, who crossed into the U.S. from El Salvador with her family as an 8-year-old, found out she was eligible for DACA while she was a junior in high school.
“I was trying to hold it together, because the next year I was going to graduate,” Urrutia said. “So it was perfect for me when I started college. It was very emotional for me because I saw God opening doors for us.”
By the time Yupanqui found out he was eligible for DACA, he was already in the process of transferring from Northern Virginia Community College to Liberty. Even before former President Barack Obama implemented the program, Yupanqui said Liberty’s Admissions Department was working to help him attend the university.
“Before DACA, they were willing to take me in and give me scholarships that actually helped me go to college,” Yupanqui said.
Yupanqui, who came to the U.S. from Peru when he was 10-years-old, said he felt welcomed by the admissions department and by faculty in the English department. However, Yupanqui did not feel comfortable talking openly about his DACA status during his first year at Liberty.
“At the time, my (Spiritual Life Coach) was very outspoken against illegals,” Yupanqui said. “There were times that debates were heated. I could only go as far as saying these are actual people without saying it’s me you’re talking about.”
Urrutia also said she chose to stay quiet about her DACA status at Liberty. She usually refers to herself as an international student even though she considers the U.S. her home.
“Probably my biggest fear is to be cast as somebody who’s a criminal, somebody who broke the law, or somebody that wants to come here and take U.S. citizens’ benefits,” Urrutia said.
Because DACA students cannot apply for federal loans or receive any federal aid, Urrutia and Yupanqui paid out of pocket and relied on scholarships to attend the university.
“I never take anything for granted,” Yupanqui said. “If you fail, you’re not only failing yourself, but you’re failing parents and family that are probably working three or four jobs just to put you through school.”
Karen Swallow Prior, one of Yupanqui’s former English professors at Liberty, said she hoped Congress would find a solution allowing immigrants like Yupanqui to stay in the U.S. legally.
“My experience teaching Bruno and witnessing what a hard worker he is and how much integrity and effort he put into his work has opened my eyes further to what significant contributions many immigrants make to the fabric of our culture,” Prior wrote in an email.
But for DACA recipients like Yupanqui already in workforce, the end of DACA could mean the end of his teaching career.
“I threw a Hail Mary hoping that if I get an English education, God is going to provide a way for me to be a teacher, which is something I’ve wanted to be for 10 years,” Yupanqui, who was a graduate student assistant for English 101 and is how a high school teacher, said. “And now that I finally have it, it’s almost promised to be ripped apart. I’m in a state of limbo.”
Urrutia, who is studying elementary education with a Spanish concentration at Liberty, also hopes to teach children in the U.S. eventually.
“When people start talking about illegal aliens, it makes me think I’m seen as an invader,” Urrutia said. “But I have more to offer. I want to be a teacher one day. My sister wants to be a missionary. My brother wants to be a musician.”
Urrutia said she wants students at Liberty to understand that while they might be unaware of it, some of their peers are directly affected by the polarizing issue.
“Don’t think that because Liberty is a predominately white and Republican college, (that) we’re not here,” Urrutia here. “We are your classmates. We are your neighbors. We are your quad mates. We are your friends.”
Yupanqui also believes immigration reform is not just a political issue. In fact, he considers it a humanitarian issue that Christians should take a stand on.
“We’re more than just a number or a political pawn to be moved around,” Yupanqui said. “We’re people created in God’s image.”