State Politics

‘DACA brought a lot of hope.’ Can Congress restore that for Idaho Dreamers?

Idaho DACA 'Dreamer' plans to be a nurse. Her future is now uncertain.

Yuni Rueda, 19, a graduate of Wilder High School, has a full-ride scholarship to Western Oregon University with plans to be a registered nurse someday. At age 1, her family moved to Idaho from Mexico and she later enrolled in the DACA program. She
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Yuni Rueda, 19, a graduate of Wilder High School, has a full-ride scholarship to Western Oregon University with plans to be a registered nurse someday. At age 1, her family moved to Idaho from Mexico and she later enrolled in the DACA program. She

Yuni Rueda plans to start school this month at Western Oregon University on a full-ride, four-year scholarship. The 19-year-old Wilder High School graduate has already completed one year at the College of Western Idaho, and just finished a summer internship at the UCLA Summer Health Professions Education Program in Los Angeles.

She also last month renewed her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals registration — the program that protects immigrants brought illegally into the U.S. as children, as long as they meet certain age and educational criteria and have not committed any significant crimes.

Rueda came to the U.S. with her family from Mexico when she was 1 year old. She hasn’t ever returned there.

President Donald Trump’s decision to end the DACA program — announced Tuesday by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — renews the tension between how to treat young adults like Rueda, and a program that many conservatives argued was an overreach by President Barack Obama.

“(T)he root of this entire issue is Congress’ failure to pass a law that takes into account the needs of everyday families, especially those families whose ties cross international borders,” Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, one of 10 state attorneys general who threatened to sue over the program, said in a statement Tuesday. “This announcement from the administration paves the way for our federal lawmakers to finally step up and deal with this very important issue once and for all.”

“This morning when we found out what the president was wanting to do in the next six months, it tore me down,” Rueda told the Statesman Tuesday afternoon through a sob. “I thought (immigrants) were advancing in some ways.”

Raised in Idaho, she said this state feels like home. She has a 15-year-old brother and 12-year-old sister who were born in America; both of her parents work in Canyon County.

When DACA went into place in 2012, her family immediately worked with an attorney to file the appropriate paperwork.

“DACA brought a lot of hope,” Rueda said. “I could drive freely without fear of being pulled over. I could work without fear that my employer would find out. I could even apply to some scholarships that needed a Social Security number.”

DACA and Idaho

The Trump administration’s action was a response to the 10 attorneys general and one governor — Idaho Gov. Butch Otter — who threatened to sue if the program wasn’t ended by Sept. 5.

DACA was originally something of a stopgap pending a greater U.S. immigration overhaul that never happened. It provides recipients a work permit and a Social Security number, which then can help them secure a driver’s license or college aid.

Sessions said there will be a “wind down period” to give Congress time to take action on a replacement. Otter and Wasden added their voices to a chorus of DACA critics Tuesday arguing the matter is Congress’ problem to solve.

“I call on Congress to redouble its efforts to restore the effectiveness of and public confidence in our nation’s immigration system,” Otter said in a statement.

Idaho’s all-Republican congressional delegation largely welcomed the move and argued for Congress to take action, though it’s unclear exactly what form such action will take. Rep. Raul Labrador noted Trump’s decision “is creating leverage for larger immigration reform, which should include border wall funding and stronger interior enforcement.”

[Read more reactions from Idaho lawmakers and advocates to Tuesday’s news]

Idaho had at least 3,132 DACA recipients as of March 2017, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. A survey by the Center for American Progress, National Immigration Law Center and other organizations estimated 2,700 of them were employed. CAR, a progressive think tank, believes losing those DACA workers could cost Idaho’s economy about $159.5 million annually.

A Pew Research Center study ranked Idaho first among states in the percentage of undocumented immigrants who could avoid deportation under DACA and related actions by Obama — more than 60 percent. That’s because such a high percentage of Idaho’s undocumented population, nearly 9 out of 10, is Mexican. That population qualifies at a higher rate based on DACA’s criteria regarding longevity and family ties.

DACA recipients are not eligible for federal health care and other federal public assistance programs, including Affordable Care Act programs, Medicaid (except for emergency services), food stamps, welfare and public housing. Upon working and paying taxes for ten years, they are eligible for Social Security and Medicare upon reaching retirement age, according to the National Immigration Law Center.

Educators react

Rueda is not unique — DACA recipients attend Idaho’s universities, and teens who could have one day applied for the program are in Idaho’s public schools.

Boise State University officials know of at least two dozen declared DACA students there.

“Boise State University attracts and embraces the best students, scholars, researchers and employees from all over the world — and that has included those who were brought to this country as children by their parents and have been protected from unreasonable deportation through the DACA program,” President Bob Kustra said in a Tuesday statement.

“As this change is debated in Washington, D.C., I want our students who may be affected by the potential elimination of this program to know that you will have the full support of our faculty, staff and administration, and that I personally am joining university leaders from around the country to appeal to Congress to create a pathway to citizenship for those protected by DACA today.”

CWI does not have a mechanism to track how many of the school’s students are DACA-eligible, said spokesman Mark Browning. The only way CWI would know is if the student self-declares. “For most of them, they’re not going to be all that forthright,” he said.

The Idaho State Department of Education also does not ask about a student’s citizenship status, and while it tracks migrant students, it doesn’t document whether they entered this country illegally.

Sherri Ybarra, Idaho’s superintendent of public instruction, said the government must “sort out this federal immigration issue sooner than later. Many young men and women affected by such a ruling are left wondering what are their next steps as they prepare for college. As superintendent, I’m looking for leadership and guidance from our elected officials in Washington D.C.”

Scott Parker is executive director for secondary education at the Nampa School District and said any repeal of DACA could have consequences for both students and educators.

“In the past, before DACA, some students who were undocumented didn’t try as hard because they didn’t have a pathway afterward to move forward,” Parker said. “My fear is that the loss of hope that was there before (DACA) will come back.”

And, he worries about former Nampa students who have graduated but are now reliant on financial aid and scholarships in college.

“As an educator, what (ending DACA) does for me personally, is it takes away equity and access,” Parker said. “Now what we’ve done is affected whether (undocumented students) can access the same things as other students have.”

Renewed confusion

What is a matter of political philosophy at one level is an intensely personal life change for those like Rueda. When seeing the news on Tuesday, she said, “it felt like a door had been closed.”

“There was a lot of fear and I’m not going to lie, I lost a lot of hope,” she said. “I just thought we’ve learned and we were actually getting somewhere (with immigration reform). What’s going to happen? I have a scholarship that’s going to help me continue, but what about the people that don’t?”

Fear and confusion were a common theme Tuesday for immigrants in the Treasure Valley.

“People don’t know what is coming for them,” said Rebecca De Leon, a local advocate for Latinos. “They don’t know if any of the efforts that they have made to be good, contributing members of this society are going to mean anything. So they just don’t know what to do with themselves.”

Ivan Carrillo is a paralegal at the law firm Ramirez-Smith and Tvinnereim. He said he was hearing from clients, friends and family members worried about the implications of DACA’s end. Some were scared federal immigration authorities will use the massive database they built from DACA applications against the people the program was supposed to help.

He recommended people consult immigration attorneys before applying for a DACA permit or a renewal.

Carrillo said he’s worried about how immigrants, some of whom he knows personally, will cope if DACA goes away without a suitable replacement.

“Once the work permit expires, everything else expires — the driver’s license, everything,” Carrillo said. “So people are left without an identity. They can no longer drive. They can no longer work.”

Most of the scholarships and programs Rueda was directed to this summer at her internship required a Social Security number. Additionally, Rueda was working as a certified nursing assistant before her internship, which is a certification that requires a Social Security number to complete testing.

Rueda is determined to finish her degree in nursing and hopes to help people in parts of the world with poor access to health care — a problem she’s seen firsthand through travel and the experiences of her mother, who has several health problems but does not qualify for Medicaid.

She said firmly that she refuses to see people forever living in fear, and feels the need to be a voice for people who can’t speak out.

“Don’t give up on your dreams and the vision God has given you,” she said.

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell