Rice community shows support for DACA

Carrying residential college flags and signs with statements like “Defend DACA – Keep families together” and “We stand with Dreamers,” Rice students, faculty and staff marched from Fondren Library to Rice Memorial Center’s Grand Hall the night of March 5 for a student-organized rally in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative.

“We really want to thank you all for coming out for this act of solidarity with DACA,” Graduate Student Association (GSA) President Sydney Gibson told the more than 200 members of the Rice community at the rally. “It’s really awesome to see all of these faces and all of the signs supporting this cause.”

Sonia Torres speaks at the DACA rally in the Grand Hall. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Sonia Torres speaks at the DACA rally in the Grand Hall. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow) To view more pictures from the event, scroll down to the photo gallery.

Gibson emceed the event along with Lovett College senior Alberto Maldonado, former president of the Hispanic Association for Cultural Enrichment at Rice (HACER). She reminded the crowd that the Rice community affected by DACA includes not only graduate and undergraduate students and the faculty, but also staff members.

The DACA initiative was introduced in 2012 by President Barack Obama to protect immigrants living in the country illegally who were brought to the U.S. when they were children. The program allows them to live and work in the United States and pursue a college education without the threat of deportation. Last September President Donald Trump announced the ending of the program.

Rice President David Leebron was out of town, but he sent a statement that was read by Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson.

“I first want to express my thanks to (Brown College senior) Santiago Avila and Professor Jose Aranda and others for organizing this event so that we as a campus can express our support for our DACA students and staff and ask our representatives to do the right thing by extending the DACA program,” Leebron wrote. He noted that support for Rice’s DACA students, faculty and staff includes their relatives and friends. “We must stand up for them and express our support in strong terms and advocate on their behalf with our political leaders and representatives,” Leebron wrote. “As members of a university community, we know firsthand what immigrants have contributed to our success.”

Leebron emphasized that all students are “a cherished part of our community” and that “we will always work to assure their ability to complete their studies and pursue their dreams.” He urged political representatives – especially those from Houston and Texas — to support an immediate extension of the DACA program.

After reading Leebron’s statement, Hutchinson added some thoughts of his own. He conveyed “how intensely proud” he was “of the Rice community to come together with a unified purpose and a unified voice to stand up for the cause of justice” and asked, “How is it possible that we need to have a rally to support the thing that 87 percent of Americans support?” He encouraged everyone to vote to show their disapproval of “incompetent leadership at the highest levels.”

The remainder of the rally consisted of speeches and musical performances by students.

McMurtry College sophomore Kim Olea, whose parents brought her to the United States from Guadalajara when she was 3, said she was “one of the lucky ones”: Her family became U.S. citizens last year. But she said there are countless “good, caring, honest” people in her life who are going to be directly impacted by the termination of DACA. She noted that DACA recipients are “hard-working individuals” who have paid the $495 fee to renew their status every two years. Contrary to what some believe, Olea said, DACA recipients aren’t eligible for Welfare benefits, but their incomes contribute to the nation’s Medicare and Social Security programs. “Putting an end to DACA means that the 800,000 DACA recipients will lose their work authorizations and will be candidates for immediate deportation,” she said. “Removing this protection puts at risk the lives of these individuals while also jeopardizing the futures of their families and negatively impacting their well-being.”

Hanszen College junior Sonia Torres, who said she is “proud to be Puerto Rican,” commented on the significance of holding the rally on March 5 – the deadline that Trump gave Congress to pass legislation to protect undocumented students after he announced he was terminating the DACA program. “Today is a day that marks empty bipartisan promises and a monstrous lack of care by many of our elected officials,” she said. Advocating “purposeful action” rather than words, Torres stressed the importance of voting. “It is time to stop criminalizing the undocumented in our country who did nothing but dream of a better future for themselves and their families. … We must stand hand in hand with our undocumented brothers and sisters and proudly proclaim that everyone has the right to the American dream.”

Maldonado shared his family’s personal story. Describing himself as a “mixed-status 22-year-old,” Maldonado said his mother was pregnant with him when his parents came to the U.S. from Mexico 22 years ago. His sister, Leidy, was 3 at that time and became a DACA recipient. She obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of North Texas in aviation logistics, but “she struggled to pay her way through college as she was considered an international student and was not qualified for federal financial aid,” he said, and she continued to struggle “to make her way to her dream job” with Southwest Airlines. “My sister is the epitome of the DACA recipient – high-achieving, determined and hindered,” he said. Other DACA recipients are missing “the chance to prove themselves,” he said.

Lovett College sophomore Ariana Engles, Student Association president-elect, said she is a “proud Latina” and noted that in addition to the removal of DACA, people should be concerned about temporary protected status (TPS) being removed for several countries. TPS is granted by the secretary of homeland security to eligible foreign-born individuals who are unable to return safely to their home country because of an ongoing armed conflict such as a civil war, an environmental disaster or epidemic or other “extraordinary temporary conditions,” she said. TPS recipients are eligible for employment authorization documents and travel authorization and cannot be removed from the U.S. on the basis of their immigration status. This year or next, TPS will end for Nicaragua, Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras. “This program has been a lifeline for so many for so long, and it is important to realize that TPS terminations affect not only people outside the hedges, it is affecting Rice Owls in our community,” Engles said. “Defending ‘Dreamers’ (a term used to describe DACA recipients in reference to the DREAM Act that Congress never passed), TPS recipients and immigrants starts at the ballot box.”

Bioengineering Ph.D. student Jason Guo, who is vice president of student advocacy for the GSA, said he is an immigrant and the child of “two immigrants who came here to the United States under conditions of great poverty and great difficulty to pursue a graduate education and a chance for a better life for their son — that’s me.” The U.S. has flourished and benefited from graduate students who came from various countries to pursue science, medicine and the humanities, he said, noting that since 2000, 39 percent of Nobel Prize recipients from America have been immigrants. But Guo said Rice graduate students who are affected by DACA have spoken about “a sense of isolation” and the “anxieties they experience on a daily basis” due to the “very real and present risk” that they could be forced to leave the country they call their home. He said that in addition to voting and contacting legislators to express support of DACA, the Rice community should create a welcoming environment for DACA recipients and all immigrants at Rice with this message: “We accept you as an individual and we accept you as a friend regardless of the circumstances upon which you came here.”

Music during the rally included Wiess College senior Isabel White singing “The Impossible Dream”; Brown College senior Austin Figueroa singing an original song, “Desperado”; Mariachi Luna Llena performing “Cielito Lindo”; and Engles singing “Lean on Me.”

Gibson and Maldonado encouraged the rally supporters to visit tables set up in the Grand Hall for advocacy organizations like Mi Familia Vota and to take advantage of resources offered by groups like United We Dream and the Student Association’s Undocumented Student Support Services Task Force.

The rally was originally planned to be held in the Academic Quad but was moved indoors due to rain in the forecast. Event organizers made the right decision — there was a downpour while the rally was underway.


About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.