Laura Minero

UW-Madison student Laura Minero enrolled in the DACA program in 2012.

CAPITAL TIMES ARCHIVES

Laura Minero was skeptical about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program before she applied for it in 2012.

“We essentially (were) handing over all of our information,” said Minero, who was brought to California from Mexico when she was 5. “That could expose our families and whoever we live with.”

But Minero, then a graduate student, needed a way to drive lawfully, and didn’t want to keep turning down opportunities to present her research at conferences because she didn’t have a valid ID and couldn’t get on a flight.

“I thought it was worth the risk,” she said.

So Minero enrolled in DACA — the Obama administration’s executive action that provided work permits and protection from deportation for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced plans to shut down the program on Tuesday.

With protection from DACA, Minero took flights and drove legally. After finishing her master’s, she enrolled in a Ph.D. program at UW-Madison, where her work permit has allowed her to hold jobs as a mentor and teaching assistant.

The fear of deportation ebbed with her DACA status, she said, though it never disappeared.

Now Minero — one of nearly 7,500 DACA recipients in Wisconsin and 800,000 across the country — faces a mountain of uncertainty.

Under the Trump administration’s plans for winding down the program, immigrants whose protections expire before March 5 can apply for a two-year renewal. Minero’s don’t expire until August, so she won’t be eligible to renew them.

The delay in ending the program gives Congress an opportunity to pass immigration legislation, which could include writing DACA’s protections into law.

If that doesn’t happen, though, Minero would lose the ability to work at her campus jobs; her research, which examines the experiences of undocumented transgender immigrants in federal detention facilities, could be too risky for her to undertake if she is herself at risk of deportation. Minero is three years into her six-year counseling psychology doctoral program.

“In a year, if something doesn’t change,” she said, “then everything I’ve worked for for the past 10 years … would be halted.”

The Trump administration, which characterized DACA as an overreach by Barack Obama that harmed American workers, has said its beneficiaries would not be high priorities for deportation.

But Erin Barbato, an immigration attorney and clinical professor in the UW-Madison law school, said that is little comfort to DACA enrollees who fear being deported from “the only country they knew.”

“They have to live with the fear that they can be removed any time,” Barbato said.

Ryan backs decision

House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday called for Congress to pass legislation to ensure “that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country.”

Still, the Janesville Republican applauded the decision to end DACA.

“Ending this program fulfills a promise that President Trump made to restore the proper role of the executive and legislative branches,” Ryan said.

Several local organizations Tuesday opposed the Trump administration’s actions, and pledged to support DACA recipients and other undocumented immigrants.

“Repealing DACA puts at risk a group of promising students at UW-Madison and at higher education institutions across the country,” UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank wrote in a statement.

Speakers in tears

On Tuesday night, the Madison City Council designated Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 of this year as Hispanic Heritage Month, and the timing was especially painful for those speaking on the topic. Several speakers held back tears or openly cried about the prospects of themselves or their loved ones being deported following DACA’s demise.

The Community Immigration Law Center, which provides legal aid to immigrants, announced Tuesday that it will hold extra hours at a free legal clinic later this week. The DACA-focused clinic hours will be from 9 a.m. to noon on Friday at Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 E. Gorham St., in addition to the center’s regular clinic hours of 1:30-5 p.m.

Minero, who co-founded the campus organization Dreamers of UW-Madison to support other DACA recipients, said she plans to spend the coming year lobbying Congress to pass a comprehensive overhaul of the American immigration system.

She wants to see legislation providing childhood arrivals, their parents and others with a path to citizenship.

“We need to stop using these Band-Aid fixes,” she said. “We’re a part of this country, and we’re just looking for a fair opportunity — not one where we’re constantly hanging on to see what happens next.”

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Nico Savidge is the higher education reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.