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Immigration activists discuss future of DACA ahead of presidential election

<h6>Karolen Eid / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Karolen Eid / The Daily Princetonian

With two weeks remaining until the 2020 presidential election, leaders of the immigrant youth-led network United We Dream (UWD) discussed the history and future of their movement to expand protections for undocumented youth in an event called “DACA or Deportation,” hosted by the University’s Program in Latin American Studies. The discussion, held on Tuesday, Oct. 20, featured Cristina Jiménez, UWD’s co-founder and senior advisor, and Greisa Martinez Rosas, UWD’s executive director.

The organization is the largest of its kind, with more than 400,000 members nationwide. It rose to prominence in 2012, spearheading efforts that pushed the Obama administration to implement the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. Now, its leaders are making strategic decisions on how to approach the next administration.


The event’s moderator, Julia Preston, a contributing writer for The Marshall Project, began by discussing the significance of the upcoming presidential election in relation to the June 2020 Supreme Court decision that upheld DACA.

The decision ruled in favor of the University, Microsoft, María Perales Sánchez ’18, and other litigants challenging the Trump administration’s attempt to dismantle the program. But this decision does not mean that DACA is safe, Preston said.

“The court did not fully embrace the arguments that Princeton made in a full-throated defense of the DACA program,” she said. “The court ruled that President Trump did have the authority to cancel the DACA program. But the court said he just did it in the wrong way.”

The President can make more attempts to terminate DACA if reelected, Preston explained.

Even if Trump loses the election, the three Supreme Court nominees he brought forward during his first term could impact future cases on this issue. The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination on Oct. 22, as Senate Republicans push to confirm Judge Barrett before Election Day.

The conversation turned to Jiménez, who described the beginnings and successes of UWD’s movement to protect undocumented immigrants.


She said that as a young organizer and undocumented immigrant, she had been afraid to share her story. Jiménez would use an alias and a fake birthplace when recounting her experience.

Referring to the now popular chant used by the undocumented immigrant movement, “undocumented and unafraid,” Jiménez explained, “I was undocumented and very afraid.”

But it was not long before Jiménez and UWD commanded national attention, as President Obama enacted DACA.

Jiménez would later be named a MacArthur Fellow in 2017 and be included in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2018.

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While Jiménez recognized DACA as one of the movement’s most significant victories, she explained that the program is not binding. It leaves room for changes from future administrations.

“It’s a temporary program and this is why we’ve had the challenges that we’ve had with the program, with this new administration, because the program allows for any administration to have decision-making over it,” Jiménez said.

Jiménez also argued that the DACA victory was qualified. The Obama administration had been deporting more immigrants than any other administration, she said, as the president believed such drastic steps would bring Republicans to the negotiating table. She recalled meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office and disagreeing with this strategy.

Connecting this attitude from the Obama-Biden administration to the current election, Jiménez said, “That is the record that Biden comes with.”

But the UWD co-founder argued that despite Biden’s initial hesitation to protect undocumented immigrants, the Democratic candidate shows more promise than President Trump.

“I think what we can see in the Biden candidate is that this is a candidate that our movement can push, pressure, and move, which is not what we’re facing with President Trump,” she said.

Martinez Rosas, UWD’s Executive Director, criticized President Trump’s rhetoric and record.

“He launched his campaign being very clear to send dog whistles to white supremacists all across the country,” she said. “What we saw was a mad man who was enacting mad man practices that put white supremacy at the center of our political discourse.”

Martinez Rosas recalled feeling uncertain about the future of undocumented immigrants when President Trump was elected in 2016. She now feels certain about who to support in this election.

“The choice is clear. Donald Trump is not for our families,” she said.

Echoing Martinez Rosas, Jiménez expressed that this election was close to home.

“I myself will be voting for Joe Biden,” she said. “Because I know that that’s the only way that I can protect my own brother Jonathan from deportation because he has DACA.”

Martinez Rosas also commented on the undocumented immigrants movement’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement and the LGBTQ+ community. She acknowledged the importance of developing solidarity with other marginalized communities.

“The people closest to the pain are also closest to the solution,” she explained.

When one attendee asked Martinez Rosas about UWD’s “wish list” for the next administration, the executive director said, “We don’t have wishes. We have demands.” To fulfill these demands, Martinez Rosas explained that UWD is preparing for either candidate’s victory in the election.

“We have a plan come Trump, come Biden, come high water, come whatever,” she said. “No matter what, undocumented young people are here to stay.”