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DACA recipients at SUNY Old Westbury forum: ‘This is my country’

Walter Barrientos, of Make The Road New York,

Walter Barrientos, of Make The Road New York, interprets for Norma Casimiro, mother of a young Dreamer, at SUNY Old Westbury on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday / Víctor Manuel Ramos

Young immigrants worried about the specter of deportation on Monday spoke of their struggles and determination to stay in the only country they know, after President Donald Trump’s administration said it is taking away a program shielding them from enforcement.

Speaker after speaker related stories of crossing the United States’ southern border as children, in some cases alone, of living in fear of being found out and of working their way through college to become the first in their families to seek higher education.

Some shed tears. All said they aren’t giving up on dreams.

They spoke at a news conference hosted by the immigrant-advocacy group Long Island Wins on the campus of SUNY Old Westbury, where many of the young immigrants known as Dreamers are enrolled.

“This is still my campus, this is still my town and this is still my country,” said Josselin Paz, 20, a junior, who can “barely recollect” her native El Salvador after coming here before she had turned 4. She is majoring in industrial and labor relations.

“This is my country,” she said. “Stop criminalizing my parents. They are not criminals for wanting to make sure that I lived.”

The plans of Paz and other Dreamers for a future here were disrupted with the Trump administration’s announcement last week that it would start a “wind down” of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

DACA, as it is known, was an executive action that President Barack Obama’s administration issued in 2012 to protect many young immigrants in the country illegally through no fault of their own, allowing them to stay, work and study legally.

The Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, SUNY Old Westbury’s president, touched on the country’s immigrant roots as he assured the students that the school is a sanctuary that will continue to welcome them.

“Our tent is big enough for all,” Butts said. “America is big enough for all.”

He said DACA provided “access and opportunity” to reach a better future.

The Dreamers, whose main desire is to thrive as others have before them, are saying, “I don’t want anyone to give me anything. Just open the door. I’ll get it myself,” he said.

The end of DACA would leave nearly 788,000 young immigrants nationwide in legal limbo, waiting for their protection to expire amid an emphasis on immigration enforcement. Thousands had pending DACA applications, and some who qualify are scrambling to renew their deferred status by Oct. 5 to buy time.

About 14,000 Dreamers on Long Island were eligible for DACA when the program first was rolled out, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

Maryann Slutsky, executive director of Long Island Wins, said the event at SUNY Old Westbury should be “just the start” of local advocacy efforts to tell Dreamers’ stories and to seek support for “permanent legislation” allowing them to stay in their adopted country.

Ana Toledo, a sophomore studying law, said she was 2 when she was brought to the U.S. from Ecuador. She told of becoming keenly aware of her status when a passer-by threw coffee at her one morning as she waited at a school bus stop, yelling at her to go home.

But Toledo, 18, said she now knows this is where she belongs.

“Although I don’t get the same benefits as citizens,” she said, “I am an American, and no one can take that away from me.”

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