Student left uncertain of future by administrative decision to end DACA

On Tuesday Sep. 5, 2017 President Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, made an announcement that rolled back the previous administration’s executive order that protected children who were brought into the United States illegally by their parents. “I was in shock,” said Lizbeth, one of the 800,000 dreamers affected by the administration’s decision.

Emma Austin


On Tuesday afternoon, an AT&T customer came into the store on Campbell Lane and was greeted by an 18-year-old employee named Lizbeth.

As she helped the customer, he started talking about his support of Trump’s recent decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program referred to as DACA, which protects immigrant youth from deportation.

Lizbeth didn’t say anything in response to the customer but continued to assist him. However, before he left, Lizbeth stopped him and asked if she could have a few more minutes of his time.

When he sat down again, she asked if he was happy with the service she’d given him. He said yes, she was helpful, and he wished her luck in school.

Then, Lizbeth mentioned their earlier conversation and told him she was a DACA recipient. She talked about how she was born in Mexico and moved to the United States when she was 4 years old.

“I told him, ‘Here I am. I’m going to school. I’m going to work. Am I someone you don’t want in this country?’,” Lizbeth said. “He said, ‘You deserve to be here. I’m so sorry,’ and he tried to give me a hug.’”

Lizbeth told him she didn’t need the comfort or the apology. She just needed his support.

Before he left, he sent an email to his senator in support of the DREAM Act.

Lizbeth is one of nearly 800,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents without documentation who have been protected from deportation by DACA. The program was created in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama by executive order to give young immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children a chance to stay in the country to work or study.

After Lizbeth was born in Mexico, she experienced severe health problems related to asthma, and her parents began the visa process so she could get the better healthcare she needed in the United States. For four years, Lizbeth said, her parents put every effort and nearly $10,000 toward getting a visa, but they got nothing.

Her brother, who was 9 at the time, was starting to get into trouble, and Lizbeth was still sick, so their parents made the decision to come to the U.S. without the paperwork.

“They sacrificed absolutely everything to get us over here,” Lizbeth said.

Lizbeth’s brother, José, graduated high school in 2012, just a few months before Obama signed DACA, and made the decision to move back to Mexico.

“I think he was just hopeless,” Lizbeth said. “He couldn’t work. He couldn’t go to school, so he made the decision to not tell my family—me, my mom and my dad—because he knew that we would try to stop him.”

About a year and a half after graduating, José married his high school sweetheart and was able to return to his home, Owensboro. In the meantime, Lizbeth had received her DACA paperwork, getting a job the same day to start saving money for college.

“I will have an education, and I will work for a living,” Lizbeth said. “That’s always been the way that I was raised. My family has never taken anything from anybody. We’ve never taken from the government.”

Last Tuesday, President Trump ordered an end to DACA, calling on Congress to pass a replacement. In six months, the 800,000 young adults who are enrolled in the program could be deported, including Lizbeth.

When Lizbeth heard the news, she was with her boyfriend, also a DACA recipient, who showed her an article from the Huffington Post.

“I was in shock,” she said. “I remember, I prayed to God, ‘Please tomorrow tell me this was a joke, or it was just some type of crazy news.’ The next day, [Trump’s] statement came out.”

One of the first things Lizbeth thought of was her plan for her own future and the uncertainty Trump’s decision brought to her life. A recent high school graduate, she is currently taking classes at WKU and Southcentral Kentucky Community & Technical College to get an associate’s degree in science. She hopes to enroll at WKU full-time next semester to pursue her dream of becoming a midwife.

Lizbeth went to her brother, who told her he and his wife would do anything in their power to help her.

“All the students who get DACA, all those kids came when they were young, when they didn’t have a choice,” José said. “A lot of these kids don’t even speak Spanish, or [the language of] wherever they’re from. The U.S. is the only home they know. If [Lizbeth] were to go back to Mexico now, it would be like going to Europe.”

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In the week following Trump’s statement, Lizbeth said she called multiple lawyers to see what her options were, but they all told her the same thing. She won’t be eligible to renew her paperwork within the next six months, so when it expires in May, she’ll no longer be able to work or study in America unless Congress decides to pass the DREAM Act, federal legislation that offered many of the same protections as DACA.

Lizbeth’s roommate, Bianca Soma, said she didn’t know much about the program until she met Lizbeth last year, and she has since made several other close friends who are also recipients of DACA.

“They’ve been here since they were kids, so sending them to a foreign country just doesn’t seem right,” Soma said. “Even though it’s their home country, it’s kind of foreign to them.”

Lizbeth could be the girl you saw grocery shopping last week at Walmart. She could be the girl who sits behind you in class. She might have been the girl who helped you get your phone fixed at the AT&T store.

“We are like anybody else, as much an American as anybody else,” she said. “I’m grateful to have grown up in this country that gave me and my family so much opportunity. I am a student trying to go to school and have the American dream that anybody else wants to have.”

Reporter Emma Austin can be reached at 270-745-0655 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @emmacaustin.