On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Immigration policy in the United States has shifted dramatically in the last decade, especially since 2016.
Seven percent of children in D.C. live with at least one undocumented family member — and many are undocumented themselves. Newcomers and undocumented students face unique challenges. How are D.C. government officials and advocates supporting this vulnerable community?
Kojo heard from three college students who shared what it’s really like to navigate life as undocumented immigrants.
As part of an ongoing series called Youth Dialogues, students engaged with government officials and decision makers on the issues that matter most to them.
This show was recorded at our “Kojo in Your Community” live event at the Columbia Heights Educational Campus in Washington, D.C. on February 25, 2020.
Produced by Victoria Chamberlin
- Karl Racine Attorney General, District of Columbia; @AGKarlRacine
- Claudia Quiñonez Trinity Washington University Student
- Martiza Mundo-Barillas Georgetown University Student
- Jessika Alvarado Math Teacher, Columbia Heights Educational Campus
- Heber Diaz Social Studies Teacher, Columbia Heights Educational Campus
- Noah Hughes Dunn Advocate, Latin American Youth Center
- Danielle Helme Advocate, Sanctuary DMV @SanctuaryDMV
- Officer Guierllmo Canales Officer, Latino Liaison Unit, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department @DCPoliceDept
- Victoria Maqueda Staff Immigration Attorney, Ayuda @Ayuda_DMV
- Michelle Garcia Director, D.C. Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants @OVSJG_DC
- Paula Fitzgerald Executive Director, Ayuda @Ayuda_DMV
- Jackie Reyes-Yanes Director, Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs
- Mizraim Belman-Guerrero Georgetown University Student
KOJO NNAMDIWe're coming to you from the Columbia Heights Educational Campus in Washington D.C. We're here as part of a series of youth dialogues that will bring young people into the conversation about issues that are affecting them directly, so welcome.
KOJO NNAMDIPolicies surrounding DACA, ICE raids and temporary protected status are changing all the time. With seven percent of children in D.C. living with at least one undocumented family member, how are students dealing with the associated trauma? And what is the impact on their learning environment? How is the city addressing the needs of this unique student population? We have a large audience turn out. It's clear that this is a hot topic. Thank you for coming. We have a number of immigration advocates, educators, school administrators, elected officials, parents and students with us tonight, but we're going to start tonight's discussion with a brief performance.
KOJO NNAMDIMarjan Naderi is an Afghan American poet, performer and educator who was recently named D.C.'s Youth Poet Laureate. Naderi uses poetry to tell stories and to express her cultural identity. As you listen to Marjan, we hope that you will start thinking about the challenges the students are facing and how we can raise their voices up and bring them into the conversation. And with that I'll let Marjan take it away.
MARJAN NADERIDear again, how are you holding up? Plastered across this country on the hats and shirts of white women. I'm sorry Donald pulled you into this again. I'm sorry Trump misused a word like you, one so easy to understand. He's not that bright. He thinks America a star he can grab and lift up to her former glory like she was ever glorious to begin with. Again, you are America's worst habit. One she is no longer afraid to flaunt proudly, one she will never break. We use you so often we forget its genuine history how the white man ends up in office again. How the citizens are outraged again. How the campus are repurposed again. You turn children into aliens again. Advertise them as beasts again, make it easier to beat them into submission again, again. We prayed you gone for so long. Then watched you resurface in other places like liberty and justice for all.
MARJAN NADERIWe memorize our bill of rights and turned ourselves soldiers to fight for this country. Yet here you are again boosting America's ego while sacrificing her people again. Feeling graves with empty promises again, again. You have so much blood on your hands. So many memories. None of them good. But I guess every slogan needs a little bit of falsity right. All lives matter. Nasty women. Global warming isn't real. I guess you got to lie a little to get to the top to trump everything. Sometimes you got to use a bit of fake news to fill in the blanks again. You loom over us like a curse word. You are the new word my momma won't let us say at the dinner table. We hear you even when you're not there. The black girl dies. The Muslim girl dies. The trans girl dies.
MARJAN NADERIAmerica has a stuttering problem. Stealing again. Mooching again. Bombing again. Policing again. Terrorizing again. Stealing again. Lynching again. We are dying again and again and again and again, and how awfully American to be tarnished at the hands of a white man with too much power. To turn genocide into a thing that white men can flaunt proudly. To be tokenized, monetized and used to rekindle a racist revolution. This isn't the first time you have seen this kind of neglect, and again, this won't be the last.
NNAMDIJoining us on stage is Jackie Reyes-Yanes, Executive Director of the D.C. Mayor's Office of Latino Affairs. Jackie, thank you for joining us. You can applaud.
NNAMDIKarl Racine is the Attorney General of the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIPaula Fitzgerald is the Executive Director for the advocacy organization Ayuda.
NNAMDIMartiza Mundo-Barillas is a Bell High School graduate and freshman at Georgetown University.
NNAMDIMizraim Belman-Guerrero is a DACA recipient and senior at Georgetown University.
NNAMDIAnd Claudia Quinones is a DACA recipient senior at Trinity Washington University and an advocate with United We Dream.
NNAMDIMizraim, I'd like to start with you. You came from Mexico as a young child with your mother and brother. Can you describe your journey to the United States?
MIZRAIM BELMAN-GUERREROYes. So I was four years old at the time. And I remember we were from Guanajuato so it's a central state in Mexico. And we took the bus as close to the border as we could. Then from there we got out and we met up with what is known as a "coyote." A coyote like a smuggler that takes people across the border. And it was my mom, my older brother and I and we ended up going towards the desert. We were walking for a couple of hours and then we came across the Rio Grande River.
MIZRAIM BELMAN-GUERREROAt the river, we had to get across. At that moment in time none of us knew how to swim except the coyote. So this became, obviously, really difficult and we had to go across in these like life rafts, these tubes. And eventually we had to go one by one, you know, putting our trust and faith in this individual to get us across safely through the border and through this river.
MIZRAIM BELMAN-GUERREROAnd eventually, fortunately, we were able to make it. We didn't come across any ICE -- or any Border Patrol officials and eventually made our way up through Texas and past the check point as well in which I was able to get across fairly easily. But my mom and my older brother had to hide in this backseat compartment vehicle in order to be able to even make it across the checkpoint because often times there are families get stuck between the border and the checkpoint in South Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, because they cannot make it across this checkpoint. But we were fortunate enough to be able to get across and then be able to meet up my father in Austin, Texas. And then that is subsequently where I grew up.
NNAMDIIt is my understanding that there was a point at which you, four years old, were reluctant to walk.
BELMAN-GUERREROYes. As a tiresome four-year-old, I didn't want to walk, and the coyote was, I guess, nice enough to put me on his shoulders and walk me across.
NNAMDIFor how long?
BELMAN-GUERREROIn all honesty, I don't remember. I would assume, with my lazy self, probably 30 minutes, maybe more.
NNAMDII'd like to go now to Victoria Maqueda, who is a Staff Attorney for Ayuda focused on immigration law. Victoria, the Trump administration brought a lot of changes to immigration policy at the national level since 2016. What are the main changes that affect immigrants from Central and South America, like our young panelists with us today?
VICTORIA MAQUEDASo, as you mentioned, there's been a lot of changes. Some of them were meant to -- in fact, all immigrant communities, not just Central Americans, but they have a desperate impact on Central Americans. Things that we're saying, obviously, the rescinding of DACA had a big impact on DACA recipients. We're still waiting to hear back from the Supreme Court on that. Additionally, changes to asylum law have been extremely impactful. The creation of what is called the Migrant Protection Program, MPP, which prevents immigrants from actually entering into the United States and hold them in Mexico. So, an immigrant coming from Central America could actually receive a deportation order from the United States from an immigration judge without ever actually having entered the United States, and deported back the country having ever entered the United States. We're also seeing changes in the public charge and how that's affecting Central Americans and, obviously, TPS and the winding down of TPS, which affects, you know, El Salvador and Honduran communities in this area particularly hard.
NNAMDIMr. Attorney General, or General Racine, which is the correct term, the revised public charge rule -- but before we go to that, how is the Office of the Attorney General responding to some of these changes?
KARL RACINEThank you very much for having the Office of the Attorney General on this panel. Let me say at the outset that I'm honored and privileged to serve on this panel with these incredible folks who are service-providers working the mayor's office to stand up for immigrants, and, obviously, these extraordinary dreamers. I'm humbled by that. The Office of Attorney General cares about immigrants. I have to tell you, I myself am a proud immigrant. My mother and father left Haiti a long time ago when I was five months old. They sent for my sister and I three years later, when they got settled in the United States. And so we know the value of immigrants to our country. We know the contributions they make. And at the Office of Attorney General, our mission is to use the law to stand up for folks who are being taken advantage of. And that is the case with immigrants. So, DACA, as Victoria noted, is a big big case.
KARL RACINEAnd, obviously, of three students here, the Office of Attorney General has joined with a number of State Attorney Generals. Unfortunately, all Democrats, no Republican joined those briefs. So, about 21 Democrats are fighting in the Supreme Court, and we're eagerly awaiting what we hope will be a positive decision from the United States Supreme Court.
NNAMDIThe revised public charge rule makes it easier for the federal government to deny legal permanent residency to immigrants they deem likely to use public benefits. It went into effect in every state but Illinois yesterday. Is there anything you'd like to that, Victoria Maqueda?
MAQUEDASo, when this first public charge rule came out, a lot of advocates, including Ayuda, as an organization, and many other of our partners in D.C. and around the nation recognized it as primarily a scare tactic. What we were looking at was the government saying, if the intending immigrant used these public benefits, they did not qualify. Well, if you took a closer look, if the intending immigrant would never have qualified for those benefits to begin with. So, what was happening was, like, okay, how is this public charge actually going to affect these communities if they never qualified for them in the first place? Well, we quickly found out when my coworkers and I started getting call after call after call. Abogada, should I take my kid off of stamps. Abogada, my kid has Medicaid. Should I take him off of Medicaid? How is this going to affect me? Very hard decisions for these families. What we're seeing now is, again, this attack on poor, immigrant families.
MAQUEDAImmigration has taken a very, very close look at how much an immigrant family makes and the likelihood of being able to support their intending immigrant. And they're being very strict on that. So, if we have, you know, a domestic violence survivor who's in a shelter, we have to be really careful about whether or not we're filing paperwork for that woman, because if she gets denied on a public charge ground, she can end up in deportation proceedings. So, it has this very, very broad effect on these very large number of communities.
NNAMDIThank you. Claudia Quinones, you arrived here a different way, through a tourist visa from Bolivia. When you got to the Washington area and enrolled in school, you did not speak English. What are some things that helped you learn and succeed, despite a language barrier and these major life changes?
CLAUDIA QUINONESSo, I came to the U.S. in 2006, and I'm from Bolivia. I remember that, when I came here, I had two cultural shocks. One, being from Bolivia in a place where the population is predominantly Salvadoran. And I remember many times not being able to communicate with my classmates. I remember that sometimes they would call me cipota and I was like, "What is cipota?" Or, you know, chera. I'm like, "What is chera?" But I had been able to learn the culture. Get to know my community and in addition to that growing up, I was completely undocumented. I was granted DACA two months before graduating from high school. And, by that time, I had already been rejected from so many schools due to the fact that I was undocumented. I remember receiving a letter from a scholarship that said that I was the perfect candidate, but because I was undocumented, they were not going to give to me.
CLAUDIA QUINONESAnd so, growing up, I had to work in order to pay for college. There was a point in which I had to pay out-of-state tuition. And, due to my experience, I decided to start organizing and empower and letting other young people that, being undocumented, it's okay. That we always find a way. And we always hustle to make things possible. We make the impossible possible.
NNAMDIMaritza Mundo-Barillas, any part of that sound familiar to you?
MARITZA MUNDO-BARILLASYeah. Well, for me, I'm Salvadoran. So, the people that were around me, I guess that helped a lot to, like, not assimilate, but to feel better here, because my classmates, they came that same year that I did, most of my friends. And they came the way that I did. They knew the struggle. They knew how life was back in El Salvador. And we all, like, worked together to learn English, to help our families, help ourselves. Like altogether we worked hard, because, like, we knew in our situation, we kept reminding -- like the world reminds us that things -- we wouldn't be able to do those things. But we reminded each other that if we worked hard, worked together, then we can. And it will be hard, but at the end of the day if you work hard, there's a chance that we'll make it.
NNAMDII wanted to get to Jackie Reyes-Yanes first, because many new arrivals make their way to this area because of economic opportunities available to them, and to stay with family who are already here. What resources are available from the District government to immigrants who have just arrived?
JACKIE REYES-YANESYes. Buenos noches a todos. Welcome to Bell, which this was my school back in '92 and '93. So, I'm home. And this is the message -- well, I'm back, like, every other week here. But I am here on behalf -- I tell this to everybody that we have a mayor that really cares for immigrants, and we want to make sure that everybody feels at home. And where you feel at home, you feel safe. And we don't have to worry about what the immigration status is when we're at home, right? We want to make sure that you have a place here in Washington, D.C. that cares for immigrants, for all immigrants. So, one of the things that Mayor Bowser has done since day one, since she became the mayor, is to reflect the constituency that she was elected by.
JACKIE REYES-YANESAnd I'm the first Salvadoran. And like you said, Maritza and Claudia, you know, we are the biggest community. I'm the first Salvadoran to lead the Mayor's Office on Latino Affairs. So, having said that -- those are the first things that she did as a mayor, to make sure that we are at the table where she's making decisions. How is our community feeling? The first thing that she did when the new tenant -- because he's a tenant at 1600. He doesn't own the 1600. We got together, and the scare tactics that he uses, we are not an arm of the federal administration. And thank God, we have autonomy in our budget. So, what she did first, have resources. You know, but those resources cost money. So, it's put our budget -- it was for $500,000 for the Immigration Justice Legal Fund.
JACKIE REYES-YANESAnd we have our partners from Ayuda here, who have advocated again and again and again for this sources. So, we have, now, $2.5 million that our constituents that have any legal services need, they can have free at cost. So, we have -- I have my team here outside. If you have any family member that is going through anything regarding immigration status, please feel free to contact us. That's what we're here for. In Washington, D.C., we are a sanctuary city.
NNAMDIWhat is the danger for undocumented immigrants if they don't receive a full and complete legal consultation?
REYES-YANESSo, one of the things that I like to say, this is a country of laws, but we are human beings. It doesn't matter how you look. You can be walking on the street. And what I tell people -- and we have spent a lot of our resources educating our community and knowing our rights. Nobody can stop me. So, if they see Paula or myself in the street, they can stop us just because they can assume. She could be from Russia and be undocumented here, right. But it's knowing our basic rights. Nobody can stop you and ask you for your immigration status. In Washington, we have done a good job. In Washington D.C. we have done a great job making sure that our constituents know what our rights are. So, that's why we work so hard for it.
NNAMDIWe're coming to you from the Columbia Heights Educational Campus with a discussion about immigration and, in particular, how it affects our young people. We have members of the audience who have questions or comments for us. We'll start over here. Go right ahead, please.
TRANSLATORSometimes, people who aren't immigrants get resources that are meant for immigrants who don't speak English. What are you going to do to make sure that immigrants who don't speak English get the resources that they need?
RACINEI think that's a very important question. And I'm happy that the young lady felt comfortable asking the question in her native tongue. And I'm thrilled that WAMU had the foresight to have a translator. In the District of Columbia, there are any number of people who speak a different language. And so it's important for us to communicate in the language of our residents. And I know that the mayor's office has done that. And certainly the Office of Attorney General is also publishing materials, educational materials, knowing-your-rights materials, both in English and in Spanish and will translate it in any language that the residents need.
MAQUEDAI also wanted to add that Ayuda maintains an interpreter bank for legal services and for crime victims. And so if you go to a non-profit in the District to receive those services, you will be eligible to have an interpreter interpret and translate in the language of your choice. That includes interpretation, document translation, and I'm really grateful that we have that in the District, thanks to District funding.
NNAMDIMartiza Mundo-Barilla, I mentioned earlier that you're a freshman at Georgetown University. And you were certainly an inspiration to your fellow students who are here at Bell Multicultural High School. But how difficult was it to find scholarships you were eligible for once you made the decision to attend college?
MUNDO-BARILLASMe, myself, I'm not a DACA recipient. I don't qualify for it. So, even those scholarships that are out there that are available for undocumented students, they were often only for DACA students. And I'm not a DACA student, so my options were even more limited. And I only had -- I think I only applied to, like, three outside scholarships, because that's what was available to me. And if Georgetown wasn't an institution that meets full need, I don't think I would be there. I don't know what I would be if it wasn't for Georgetown meeting my financial need.
NNAMDIWell, you're there. Claudia Quinones, how did you fund your college education?
QUINONESSo, I graduated from high school in 2013. The DACA program was announced in 2012. And, as I mentioned before, I was granted DACA two months before graduating from high school. At that time, there were no programs for undocumented students or DACA recipients. So, essentially, every school that I applied for denied me, or they provided me with scholarships, but because I was undocumented, they were charging me out-of-state tuition. So, once I was granted DACA, I got on the bus. I went to the Social Security Office, and I got myself a social security number. Then I got on the bus again. I went to the DMV. And got myself a driver's license, and finally, I went to the local community college, and I enrolled myself in the school.
QUINONESSo, essentially, for the last seven years, I've been working in order to pay for school. I went to Montgomery College, and after going to Montgomery College, I decided to transfer to UMBC. And I couldn't continue my education there, because I was not able to afford the tuition. So, I remember not being able to afford it, and then basically being told that I wasn't able to go back. And I stopped going to school for about two years. And then find I found Trinity. They have this amazing Dreamer's scholarship that I qualified for. It changed my life, and now I'll be graduating from college this May.
NNAMDIWhat a journey. Congratulations. Heber Diaz is a Social Studies Teacher here at the Columbia Heights Educational Campus. He also works in the Bilingual Education Program. Heber, from the perspective of an educator, what are some of the hidden challenges and barriers new comer students face, besides a brand new language? Obviously, we've just heard quite a few of them.
HEBER DIAZThis issue is both a personal issue and also a professional issue for me, because this is my community. This is my school. This is where I grew up. This is where I graduated from. And seeing the evolution of the effects of students who look like me, who may not have the same experience as me, but the experiences that my parents had in this community. And, as an educator, one of the things that we think about is educating the whole child. And that means meeting or finding ways of supporting the ways to meet the needs of every child. The Urban Institute has done research that shows that immigrant children tend to have fewer attendance to pre-school programs. And, if you're a parent, you understand the importance of pre-school. So, not having access to that. And that alone, not being able to go to pre-school, that alone puts a student at a disadvantage.
HEBER DIAZMoreover, as an educator we think about other student's needs. We call it the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs. Immigrant families, as we have heard about the public charge rule, will have less access to food security, housing security, health coverage, and all of these things add up. All of these things add up for a teenager or a child whose world is just to learn.
HEBER DIAZAnd so when they come to school, and they come here with all this baggage, and when I go to a child, and I ask one of my students and say, why didn't you do your homework or what's going on, and they respond to, well, I had a court date. I get that line a lot: well, I have a court date. And this is happening and we're trying to figure this out. Or when students stop coming to school because of that fear, that's a problem, because my role as an educator is to help them learn. It's more than that. It's also to provide the conditions in which they can learn. And this country's not providing those conditions. And these policies are not providing those conditions.
HEBER DIAZMoreover, they're facing challenges on different levels. We got the public charge role. The ceiling for -- a lot of our students seek asylum or seek to -- asylum is what they seek, and that ceiling has been brought down to 30,000. For all of Latin America and the Caribbean, that ceiling is 3,000. And, correct me if I'm wrong, but this is some of the things that I've been looking at as to how this affects, which is different than the public charge role.
HEBER DIAZAnd all these -- and the reason why I'm mentioning all these things is because these are things that are buzzing around in their heads, as well. And so that effects also their abilities to have a healthy mind, anxiety, depression, worry. And our social workers, and we have some great, amazing social workers at our school, are also overwhelmed with these effects, because we hear it, they hear it. And all we want for them is to learn to reach the best potential that they can.
NNAMDILet me ask a question, the same question to your colleague, Jesika Alvarado, who's a math teacher here. Can you weigh in on this, Jesika, add anything to what we just heard from Heber?
JESIKA ALVARADOYeah, Heber made some really great points. I just also want to add, there's a lot of socio-emotional things that our students are facing. Many of them are reuniting with their families when they've been separated for many, many years. And, as a teacher, you know, our parents are our biggest allies. And sometimes it's hard when they haven't been such a big presence in being with their children for a long time.
JESIKA ALVARADOA lot of the time, our students feel like their parents are strangers. And we're helping guide to build that relationship. There's a lot of fear, especially this year, I've seen more than years past, where students are completely dropping out of school because they've gotten deportation notices. So, this year, I know three students who have just not come back to school. They have left because of what they've been told at their court dates.
JESIKA ALVARADOAnd this ongoing fear that our students face, it makes it really hard to be in the classroom, present, giving their 100 percent, something very simple. I have a student who just graduated last year, and he is in Maine now. And I remember last year, when he was exploring his college options, he wanted to go visit the school, because it was a school that he was considering. And he just had fear of getting on the train and going there, because he didn't know -- he would come and ask me, well, what would I do if they stop me? What would I do if they ask me for my ID? Because, at that time, he didn't have an ID.
JESIKA ALVARADOAnd it's just this constant fear and things that they have to think about, that someone like me doesn't have to think about. And, as a teacher, you just try your best and informing them of their rights, building relationships with the families and making sure that we're a space where they feel comfortable coming to speak to us about these issues that they're facing.
NNAMDIMaritza Mundo-Barillas, a member of your family was detained by ICE. What happened?
MARTIZA MUNDO-BARILLASWell, it was my older brother. I think it was last year, at the beginning of my senior year in high school. He was going to work, and he said that he just got stopped. They were waiting for him at our apartment, like, right outside our apartment. And, well, they had no reason to do that, because we have been going to courts. We have not missed one court since we came to the U.S. And he hadn't done anything. He didn't commit a crime, so I don't know what they were doing there.
MARTIZA MUNDO-BARILLASAnd he was there for -- I don't even know for how long he was there, but he was there for months. And when we went to court to get him out, they said that he committed a crime, that he was driving while drunk or something. But we don’t' even have a car, and he doesn't even have a license, so they were lying. They're just targeting people because of the color of their skin and because we're poor. They had no reason to take him. (crying)
NNAMDIWe have here, in the front row, Officer Guierllmo Canales, who is with the Metropolitan Police Department's Latino liaison unit. Officer Canales, there seems to be a feeling in the community that despite being a sanctuary city, undocumented people are not safe. What is the relationship between MPD and federal authorities?
OFFICER GUIERLLMO-CANALESWe don't work hand-in-hand with any federal authorities, as far as I know. I have never personally worked with anybody, either ICE or U.S. Marshals, on a federal level. We do not work with any federal-level agencies.
NNAMDIYou could tell us what you do do, because you've been a member of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department since 2012. And you became a member of the Latino liaison unit. How does this unit work with the Latinx community?
GUIERLLMO-CANALESIn the last year, we conducted a lot of community outreach. We do safety seminars. We go to schools. So, what we do pretty much is bring light to people. A lot of people don't know how the police operate. Like, for example, people that had just moved to the United States, they don’t know when to call 911. They don’t know if they should provide their information, because of that same reason, you know, because they're afraid to contact the police when there's a crime, or if they're experiencing something in their neighborhood, or anything of that nature.
GUIERLLMO-CANALESSo, what we do in our seminars is we bring information pretty much stating that feel free and open to talk to the police, because we have nothing to do with immigration. We have nothing to do with asking information regarding, you know, documents or green cards or anything of that nature. We actually are prohibited -- we have policies in MPD that we cannot do those things. We cannot ask those questions.
GUIERLLMO-CANALESSometimes, it bothers me, because I want people to come to us, you know. And I understand that a lot of times people are, you know, afraid. And we're trying to break that barrier. You know, that's why we do these events. We do to these community events, we got to the seminars to pretty much open people's eyes, so they understand that they are, you know, more than welcome to call the police and not feel afraid.
NNAMDIYeah, because the police department depends on cooperation from the community in order to have the evidence and make cases. Let's go back to members of our audience here. It's your turn.
TRANSLATORShe said that she is sometimes discriminated against at school, and that she doesn't feel that there's enough being done about it. And she's asking: what are you planning to do to stop people, students like her from being discriminated against?
RACINEI would like you very much to meet one of my colleagues. They're sitting over there, the three of them. Put your hand up. And if you please would talk to them if you can, we'll get your name. We'll go to Roosevelt, and we'll remind the folks over at Roosevelt that you're to be treated fairly, just like everyone else. We need to understand a little bit more about what's going on, but the Office of Attorney General, www.oag.gov is here to help. The phone number is 202-727-3400. Tell them that the attorney general said he would help, and we will help.
NNAMDIWe're coming to you from the Columbia Heights Educational Campus, talking about immigration and its effect, in particular, on young people. I want to shift the conversation now to the topic of documentation. Claudia Quinones, you spent your entire time in school undocumented. You were granted deferred action for childhood arrivals or DACA status at the end of your senior year. What changed for you after you were granted DACA?
QUINONESSo, I think that when we get DACA, we become heads of our households. Before I was granted DACA, my mother was the only provider of the home. She was making approximately $14,000 a year, which is no -- it's impossible to live with that amount of money. When I was granted DACA, I was able to start working. I was able to start providing for the home. I was able to get my first car and a driver's license, health insurance. I hadn't been to a doctor since I came from Bolivia, so between me -- it was almost like a six-, seven-year timeframe between me getting a checkup and actually going back to the doctor for blood work and everything else.
QUINONESI think that when you are granted DACA, you become responsible for your family. You are the face of the family. So, in many circumstances -- and I can talk about my friends, as well -- they're the ones that have the home lease under their names or the utilities under their names. They're the people that are responsible in school documents for their younger siblings. And not only that, but I think it helps you break from a poverty status that is so real in immigrant communities.
NNAMDIPaula Fitzgerald, DACA is just one aspect of the immigration system, and it doesn't have a clear path to citizenship as of this day. What are some of the other options for young people to obtain a visa or other permanent status?
PAULA FITZGERALDRight. Thank you for asking that, and you also asked before about the importance of a full consultation, which is connected. A full consultation is very important, because there are other statuses which a lot of DACA recipients also qualify for. And when we did the consults at Ayuda, we did find that a lot of our DACA-eligible clients were also eligible for U visas, which are visas for victims of crime. Certain crimes qualify which does have a path to residency.
PAULA FITZGERALDWe had a lot of young people who had been victims of human trafficking that were not aware that they were. They qualified for T visas for victims of human trafficking. That also has a pathway to residency. And then there is a form of relief that's not as well-known as it should be, called special immigrant juvenile status for children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected. But children have to apply before they turn 18.
PAULA FITZGERALDAnd it's not a timeframe when a lot of young people are thinking about going to an immigration attorney to do a consultation. And so I think it is very important. Ayuda offers consultation clinics that are free and open to the public, so that people can get full consultations and can become aware of the forms of relief that they might be eligible for. And, you know, you can have DACA and also apply for another form of relief, and we've done that. We’ve done applications for DACA or DACA renewals, along with the U visa, to get the long-term status.
NNAMDIOkay. Your turn, sir.
TRANSLATORHe's asking what you can do to sort of improve society for immigrants and people of color more largely in the community. He's also had -- a couple of experiences that he's had sort of walking on the street and seeing that people are giving him sort of ugly looks, that people haven't provided services to him. Even, you know, at stores like Walmart, that he hasn't been provided services he wanted, because he feels that he's discriminated against when he's walking around in the community. He says he knows that this can't change from, you know, day to night, and he's not expecting a radical change, but he's asking what would you say?
MICHELLE GARCIAI will commit myself to go to the school. And my staff (unintelligible) talking to him already, but that is, you know, not terrible for us to admit -- you know, to tolerate this. So, we're going to schedule something for this week because nobody should be afraid to be going to school.
NNAMDIYour turn, sir.
AUDIENCE MEMBERMy question is revolving around, is there any sort of, like, legal action that is being taken place within propositions to amnesty for people who have been in this country for about 20, 15, 10 years, that have lived so hard and worked so hard to make a living here? Because I know plenty of people that have been working here for 20 years, and they don't have these types of entrances to citizenships. So, is there some type of, like, legal implications that have been for these people?
NNAMDIMr. Attorney General?
RACINESure. I hate to be the bearer of bad news. Something like that, which makes a lot of sense, amnesty for people who have lived honorable lives here and who have contributed to the very wellbeing of the United States, and certainly the city, should be granted. Amnesty, however, is the province of the United States Congress. And we know that Congress is really not working, at least one side of Congress. The Republicans have bought into President Trump's hateful and racist policies.
RACINEAnd let me just say, it is incredibly important for everyone here to call them out. It's racist. Steven Miller is the architect of the racist immigration policies. He is an avowed white supremacist. Only white supremacists seek to remove black and brown babies from their parents. Only white supremacists seek to put black and brown babies in cages. Only white supremacists would seek to hurt people and stop them from getting needed benefits. We need to call out these racists for what they are. And I believe if we do so, most Americans will say, I need to separate myself from these racists.
NNAMDIMizraim Belman-Guerrero, can you talk a little bit about how students themselves can become involved in advocacy efforts?
BELMAN-GUERREROYeah, so I have been involved with immigrant rights activism since I was 15, in high school. And the way that I was, fortunately enough, able to get involved is pretty much through my older brother. He was able to bring me in and teach me how to do, like, organizing, teach me to be comfortable in my immigration status.
BELMAN-GUERREROAnd I think that's just kind of where we need to start is building bridges and building those mentorship programs where undocumented folks can speak with other undocumented folks that have been able to build those paths and build those relationships from the get-go, so that every student -- undocumented, with DACA, without DACA -- knows that they have someone that they can look up to, has someone that they can reach out to.
BELMAN-GUERREROBecause growing up, like, I was always very open about my status and have been comfortable in my status for a really long time. But I know that there are many other folks that haven't had this opportunity or privilege to be able to say that they're undocumented. And it's a very isolating experience when you don't know anyone else going through the same things that you are.
BELMAN-GUERREROAnd I think what's also important in this conversation is also broadening the scope of who is considered an immigrant, who is considered a worthy immigrant, and knowing that there are not just Latinx immigrants, but there are Afro-Latinx immigrants, there are black immigrants that are undocumented, as well, and that need to be highlighted and need to be put in the forefront of these issues, because oftentimes, they are not.
BELMAN-GUERREROAnd I think, as well, mentioning that, you know, there are instances in our lifetimes where people can make mistakes. And so just because someone has committed a crime, has committed a misdemeanor driving without a license, a broken taillight, or anything in between, like, this should not disqualify them from getting access to benefits, getting access to a pathway to citizenship in the future. Because they're just as deserving and just as human as anyone else. And we need to continue to fight and uplift these voices. And building those mentorship programs can be a great way to start and connecting people to one another.
NNAMDIClaudia Quinones, you are also involved with United We Dream, the largest youth-led immigration community in the country. What's the mission of United We Dream, and why should young people get involved with it?
QUINONESSo, United We Dream works with immigrant youth to empower and pass local and federal policies to protect immigrant communities and their families. I'm a community organizer with them. I organize here in D.C. with them. I'm currently working with students from Bell High School, Cardozo High School, D.C. International High School, School Without Walls, UDC, Georgetown, Wilson High School, Banneker High School and Trinity College. And we bring the students together to find a place where we can support each other, where we can build community and where we can talk about our status.
QUINONESI remember that when I was growing up, I was so ashamed of being undocumented, that no one knew. And I remember being told, you have to blend in. Don't call any attention to yourself. And this is the case that many people continue to live. So, now, we bring these people together so that they can start to love themselves, so that they can start helping themselves and build community.
QUINONESLast year, we had a school walkout on November 8th in support of DACA. Many students from all these amazing schools walked out in support of their classmates, to the Supreme Court, to make sure that everyone is protected. I think that when you have a support system inside your school, you are able to build community, have those mentorships and start to love yourself and create awareness in the community that probably doesn't know so much about immigration.
GUIERLLMO-CANALESI also wanted to touch, if I can, real quick, about what Claudia mentioned earlier, how she used to blend in in the past. Like somebody said earlier today, we're 15 percent, you know, immigrants in D.C. I'm one of them, okay. And I always bring, also, this information when I go out there on the streets and do safety seminars and community outreach, because I want people to know that I was one, too. You know, like, don't be afraid. You know, like, I think Mr. Guerrero mentioned this before, don't be afraid to do the hard work.
GUIERLLMO-CANALESYou know, we came here -- I came here when I was 14. I was older than all three of you, I think, when I came. I didn't speak any English, either, you know. But we work hard for what we want, you know. And we had to let people know that no matter what career path you're looking for, all you got to do is just stay the course, you know, work hard for it and you can achieve anything you want.
NNAMDIOfficer Canales, I'm one of them, too. (laugh) We only have time for one more.
DIAZThank you. I want to first pay tribute to Marissa, because it was Marissa's graduation speech last year that really touched everybody that heard it. And it's hard not to bring politics into this. And, right now, we're in the middle of budget time. And I started when the MCIP board, as well as the LSAT here at the school. In looking at the DCPS numbers, enrollment per student here is lower than every other high school in the city. So, with everybody that's here and everybody that hears your show, I'm going to make a request that you write, text, email the chancellor to bring checks per student allocation on par with every other school in the city.
DIAZSo, that way, everybody that's here can do a little bit more than just clap and, you know, feel -- you can take an action. And all due respect to my dear friends who work for the mayor, the chancellor's budget goes through the mayor. You can send that same one to the mayor, as well, okay? And after the mayor does it, it goes to the city council. We need your support with the city council.
DIAZIf you can do that, then I think that this becomes more than just a night where everybody feels good about being anti-Trump and his racist policies. But we can take a positive action and give the students that come here the resources that they deserve.
NNAMDIThank you very much. And that's about all the time we have. We've heard a lot tonight. Thank you all for showing up and participating. Please give yourselves a round of applause. We hope you'll continue to engage with us on this topic. A special thank you to our panelists this evening.
NNAMDIThis conversation is part of a series of events called Youth Dialogues. Next up, a conversation with students about access to mental health resources in Prince George's County. You can check back for more information at kojoshow.org. Before we go this evening, we'd like to say thank you to the administrators and teachers of the Columbia Heights educational campus for hosting us tonight. And thankful to our incredible performer this evening, Marjan Naderi.
NNAMDIThank you to our wonderful engineers, our superstar volunteers, the Kojo Show team, marketing and events, and to the rest of our colleagues at WAMU for taking this show on the road. Kojo in Your Community is presented by FWD.US. We appreciate their support. And thank you all again for coming out, and give yourselves another round of applause.
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