DACA students call for path to citizenship

Local DACA activist, Alan Ledesma, talks about being limited from opportunities because of his undocumented status.

Two recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program paneled a Pizza and Politics discussion with immigration attorney Marlene F. Gonzalez on Tuesday, April 17, in the Ragan Theater, to discuss the current state of the program and its impact on students at UVU.

Alan Ledesma, a student at UVU and co-founder of the United Coalition for Undocumented Students, and Cristell Marcial, a fellow DACA recipient and student at UVU, shared their experience navigating the DACA program and shared the impact it has had on their lives.

Both coming to the U.S. from Mexico at early ages — Ledesma at the age of nine and Marciel at the age of seven — have been able to receive a college education and a far better life in the U.S. because of the DACA program.

“I want to have a piece of the pie,” Ledesma said, “I want to be able to have a job, a house, a wife, a white picket fence, all of that. I just want to have a piece of the pie.”

Ledesma has been working on and off during semesters to pay for school. “While I’m on DACA, I don’t have access to any benefits from the government. I’m not a citizen.”

Because of his deferred status, Ledesma is not able to qualify for student financial aid, welfare, food stamps or healthcare.

When asked what the end goal was for DACA, Gonzalez made it clear.

“The end goal of DACA is legalization,” Gonzalez said.

According to Gonzalez, intended to provide recipients of the program with a two-year stay and deferred deportation in the U.S., the DACA program removes the threat of deportation through the various securities it grants to those awarded: a valid social security number, a work permit and parole to stay within the country. Admittance to the program only occurs after an extensive background check and inquiry into the applicant’s moral character.

Emma Guapo, a UVU alumna who graduated in 2014 with a degree in community health education, was also a DACA recipient and shared the impact DACA has had on her.

“I wanted to get a degree no matter what,” Guapo said. “[DACA] completely changed my life; it gave me hope that I could get a job after school.”

With a full-time job and a college education, Guapo has been able to grow financially in many ways, such as getting a loan to purchase a car, obtaining health insurance and having savings in a 401k — things she would not have been able to do without DACA.

Approximately 800,000 recipients are in the DACA program, 10,000 of whom reside in Utah, according to Ledesma.

According to a study completed by the Center for American Progress, which was shared by Ledesma, 80 percent of Americans are in favor of DACA.

Ledesma asked those in attendance to show their support for DACA recipients by contacting their congressional representatives or participating in the United Coalition for Undocumented Students, which meets every Thursday, to help.

“I can’t vote, but you can,” Ledesma said. “If you support DACA, we need your help, and if not, we need you to be a part of the discussion.”

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