By Willow Westervelt, Samantha Brandbergh and Chase Dudek
For U.S. citizens, being suddenly stripped of their sense of belonging in a place they call home is hard to imagine.
However, for thousands of undocumented immigrants, including senior biology major Maria Chaves, this is a reality.
Chaves is one of the 11 students at Rider, the “Dreamers,” in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which the Trump administration rescinded on Sept. 5.
The program allows children who came to America illegally before 2009 to work, go to school, drive and be functioning members of society without the fear of being deported to their home countries.
Valeria Posso, ’17, who came to America from Cali, Colombia, at the age of 4, believes that “whatever happens, happens,” and if she is meant to go back to Colombia, she will.
“It sucks because I was born somewhere — and I’m so prideful to be from there — and I can’t be there,” she said with tearful eyes. “I love the U.S., but it sucks because everyone tells you so many things about where you were born and you can’t even know what it’s like.”
Chaves and her family are from Costa Rica, and moved to Trenton in 1999 when she was 3 years old. She attended Trenton Public Schools until her freshman year of high school when she was accepted with an academic scholarship to Princeton Day School (PDS).
Chaves came to live in the U.S. when the company her father worked for opened in New Jersey.
“We came here legally on a plane, with a visa, but we overstayed our visa,” said Chaves. Her family continued living with her uncle, who was also undocumented.
Since her family established themselves in the states, her parents have had her brother and younger sister, who is following Chaves’ footsteps and received the same scholarship to PDS.
Both siblings have U.S. citizenship since they were born in the U.S., but only her sister has citizenship in Costa Rica too.
Chaves currently has DACA work authorization, a driver’s license and a social security number through DACA, but receives no benefits despite paying taxes.
“I work multiple part-time jobs, and so do my parents. It’s been incredibly hard to work full-time and go to school full-time.”
Applying to college, however, was a much more difficult process.
“It was a huge nightmare,” Chaves said. “I didn’t realize what it meant to be undocumented. It was like [hitting] a brick wall.”
For Chaves, childhood was filled with worry over immigration services, even though she was not fully aware of her situation until she was older.
“I was scared to be pulled over,” she said. “I was scared that my parents would get pulled over. They get pulled over for a dim taillight and then it goes from dim light, to ‘Where’s your license?’ to ‘I don’t have one’ to deported. I would have nightmares about it.”
Although she receives no student loans or FAFSA aid, Chaves obtained a merit aid from Rider after applying to 30 schools and being denied to many, including Princeton and Yale, due to being an undocumented U.S. citizen.
“It feels like no one wants me here,” she said.
Posso suffered the same frustration, but was able to overcome it through a program in Trenton called Futuro, which is through The Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a non-profit organization.
“They were able to provide me with resources that I didn’t even know I had,” she said. “I had to figure out a way to pay for my tuition, since I can’t take out loans.”
In a statement released on Sept. 7, President Gregory Dell’Omo expressed his support for the 11 Rider students, and approximately 800,000 other Dreamers across the country affected by DACA’s abolition.
“Rider is a forward-looking university committed to the values of diversity and inclusion and does not discriminate against someone because of their religion, race, country of national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation,” he said in the email. “We are comprised of a community of learners committed to supporting one another, and each of us makes important contributions to the vibrancy of our institution.”
Dell’Omo’s support for the Dreamers on campus gives Chaves a feeling of belonging.
“I am so extremely grateful to be somewhere where I am welcomed and where my education is supported. I’m really grateful to be here and not somewhere where there’s more campus controversy,” she said.
Although being a part of the DACA program protects Chaves through graduation at Rider, she will be unable to go to grad school in the U.S., where she wanted to study toxicology.
Posso hopes that Rider students take this time to comfort those in the DACA program in any way they can.
“If someone is a DACA recipient, this is the time to support them, even anything as little as a hug,” she said. “I never knew what would happen once I told people. Feel free to reach out and gain perspective. I do things to make [myself] normal, but at the end of the day, I’m not completely normal.”
For Chaves, the idea of people being uneducated about how DACA works and affects the lives of the Dreamers was extremely upsetting.
“I’m a student just like everyone else,” she said. “I have to pay for college just like everyone else and I work just like everyone else.”
There will be a DACA information session on Sept. 13 in Science 102 from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Printed in the 9/13 edition.