Students Aim To ‘Rewrite The Narrative’ About DREAMers

By Joyce Kim
La Cañada, Calif.

On September 5, 2017, a rainy Tuesday in Durham, North Carolina, Marco Gonzalez Blancas and Salvador Chavero Arellano, then freshman at Duke University, heard the news: DACA would be dismantled.

The Trump Administration’s announcement that it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program left nearly 800,000 “DREAMers”— young people who had entered the country un-lawfully as children—at risk of losing the legal protection granted to them by the program, which allowed them to defer deportation in renewable two-year periods, as well as apply for a driver’s license, social security number, and work permit.

“I remember the date exactly,” Arellano re-called. “That was when a lot of us—you know, freshman, sophomore, junior, seniors—got together, and we said something needs to be done. We need to fight.”

The students started Duke University’s chapter of Define American, an organization that “uses the power of narrative to humanize conversations about immigrants.” The newly-founded chapter included undocumented and DACA students, TPS (temporary protected status) students, and citizens who were allies. That year, the group lobbied the U.S. Congress to urge their representatives to keep the program.

“I really wanted to have more allies coming into the chapter,” said Gonzalez, who served as co-president of Duke’s chapter. “I think a lot of people, even at Duke, hadn’t met an undocumented person or DACA person. Or maybe they had, but those people that they had encountered throughout life hadn’t told them because they were afraid that they were going to be treated differently. So we took it as our mission to also inform and educate people more on topics re-lated to immigration.” The chapter’s initia-tives included educational and social events, such as dedicating a week to un-documented awareness, or tabling at the plaza on campus and asking students to give up their student ID for a period of time in order to simulate the experience of being undocumented. Gonzalez and Arellano say they received support from Duke’s administration. Days after Trump’s DACA decision, the president of Duke “told us that the institution would be behind us,” said Arellano. The administration funded the chapter’s trips to D.C., gave students access to Duke’s law clinic for individual assistance with renewing their DACA status and alerted students if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was in the area, among other services. They also allowed students who didn’t qualify for work-study to receive grants and financial aid.

Despite Duke’s institutional support of the undocumented, Arellano says not all of the staff at Duke were well versed in the problems facing students like him. When he sought counseling at Duke’s Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) after his parents had to go back to Mexico, Arrelano recalls, “I remember talking about my experiences and my status, and the person [at CAPS] did not know how to help me. They were like, ‘Oh, why didn’t you just apply for citizenship?’ I think there was a huge limitation during the first half of my experience there.”

Since then, however, Define American’s chapter has done trainings for Duke administrators on how to support undocu-mented students, and Gonzalez and Arellano say that there has been an exponential change for the better. 

Even after all they’ve done, Gonzalez and Arellano don’t plan to stop working to improve conditions for America’s undocumented, whether or not they qualify for DACA.

“I think we need to fight for as many people as we can and rewrite the narrative that you need to be a perfect immigrant in order to belong here,” said Gonzalez. “We don’t stop the fight just because we get our papers.”

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