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Aurora forum examines impact of Trump DACA immigration decision

Sep 17, 2017
In The News

A roundtable discussion in Aurora on President Donald Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program Saturday examined the impact of the policy change on local communities.

Hosted by U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, the event in the Little Theater at East Aurora High School attracted people in social services and those who have benefited from the program known as DACA.

"Not only is this decision a cruel one that will have a devastating impact on the lives of nearly 800,000 young people — 42,000 in Illinois alone who have benefited from the DACA program — it will also greatly harm our economy," Foster said.

Foster said studies suggest the DACA recipients add $460 billion in economic impact to the nation's Gross Domestic Product.

"This incredible number is a testament to the hard work these DREAMers have been doing in communities across the country," said Foster, whose 11th Congressional District represents Aurora.

"It's clear President Trump fails to appreciate the important contributions that these Americans make to our country's rich diversity and our economic prosperity."

A six-member panel shared their insights and experiences, for some the very issues confronting those brought to the United States as children who are now facing uncertainty for their future.

Foster described it as a "roller-coaster ride" since he voted in favor of the DREAM Act as a member of Congress.

It failed in the Senate by five votes, he said. "It's been going on for so long. But the fight is continuing. There may be progress in sight," he told about 70 people in the audience.

He said any attempt to end the DACA program and make young immigrants feel unwanted or unsafe is unacceptable.

"The United States is the only country that many of these young people have ever known, and their presence here has only made America stronger."

He said President Trump's DACA decision has "reignited the urgency" to pass the DREAM Act legislation of which he is co-sponsor of in the House of Representatives.

He said it is imperative that the Republican leadership in Congress bring it to the floor for a vote.

"Here in Aurora we have seen people of all backgrounds come together to voice their opposition and stand up to protect DREAMers," Foster said.

Adrienne Merced-Holloway, chief innovation officer in Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin's office, said the mayor references the city as "One Aurora," which is a testament to how he feels about all those who live in the city.

Merced-Holloway said there are 5,000 individuals in Kane County who are eligible for DACA with another 3,000 future DACA-eligible individuals.

"We cannot only focus on those who are losing their status, this was an entry point for others who are waiting for the opportunity to move beyond the shadows," she said.

Merced-Holloway said the DACA program was an order created by former President Barack Obama with time limits attached to ensure continual activity at the congressional level to pass the DREAM Act.

Ana Campa Castillo said she is a DACA recipient who came to the United States at the age of 6 with her parents.

She explained how she was bewildered by the decision to leave Mexico, but visited eight years later and understood why her parents left in pursuit of the American dream.

"Looking at the home that I once thought was everything was the final straw that broke my heart. It is remarkable that it was still standing," she said.

Castillo, 26, is now married with two sons and attends college.

"DACA has allowed my husband and me to put fear of deportation aside and work legally toward our dreams and hopes," she said.

"The decision to repeal DACA does bring worries my way. It starts with the uncertainty of whether my husband and I will be able to find work to support our family and go to school," she said.

Cesar Vargas said he, too, came to the United States from Mexico with his mother as a young boy after his father died. He attended law school and became the first immigrant without documentation to be able to practice law in New York. He is co-founder of Dream Action Coalition.

"As an attorney and advocate, I am committed to ensure we are creating a fair immigration policy not just so that we as DACA recipients can continue to be a U.S. citizen one day but to ensure we can contribute to a country we call home," he said.

He recalled his last day in Mexico and a photo that was taken with his mother and three siblings that he never really paid any attention to in the past.

"My mother was hovering over us ... looking very determined and holding a plastic bag. In the plastic bag were our documentation and school records. Our life was in that plastic bag ... that's all we took to start a new life," Vargas said.

Maria Antonia Mariscal, about three-quarters into the discussion, spoke out saying her five young children would not be able to stay for the entire forum.

"Please do whatever you need to do to get the DACA program through. I feel as though the Latinos keep getting used for our votes and nothing gets through," Mariscal said to applause.

Foster said he shared her frustration. Mariscal, whose children were ages 1 to 10, said she has friends she fears will be deported.

Ed Yohnka, ACLU director of communications and public policy, described Trump's decision as "cruel and clueless" and unnecessary.

"DACA clearly falls within the scope of the executive authority to enforce our nation's immigration laws. Had this administration had the courage to make this case in court in a vociferous way, they, too, would have been able to continue this program but they chose a different path, one of cruelty and uncertainty," Yohnka said.