Meet the Two Young DACA Recipients From Los Angeles Invited to Attend Tuesday’s State of the Union Speech
This piece was produced in partnership with LA School Report
Two young DACA recipients from Los Angeles will be guests at Tuesday’s State of the Union address, sitting with House Democrats and hoping to hear President Trump announce a permanent solution for them and their families to remain together in this country.
The two young women are part of a delegation of Dreamers from around the nation who have been invited by 24 House Democrats. They were chosen by the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles to represent undocumented students in the area.
“We want to see how we can change the minds of these people, really get at their hearts,” said Melody Klingenfuss, 23, who was invited by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to attend the speech as her guest. But “we have to be realistic of what we’re going to find there. It won’t be friendly, but we know what our mission is.”
A tweet Tuesday from Congressman Paul Gosar, a Republican from Arizona, was pointedly unfriendly to the undocumented guests who will be at the speech. “Any illegal aliens attempting to go through security, under any pretext of invitation or otherwise, should be arrested and deported,” Gosar tweeted just hours before the presidential address. “Of all the places where the Rule of Law needs to be enforced, it should be in the hallowed halls of Congress,” he wrote.
Klingenfuss called Gosar’s tweet “a pointless threat,” adding, “It is completely unconstitutional, and we are exercising our right to free speech.”
As a DACA recipient, Klingenfuss said she has gone through “a roller coaster of emotions” since September when Trump announced he would phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. She graduated last year from USC with a master’s in nonprofit leadership and management and is now a statewide youth organizer with the California Dream Network, which is run by CHIRLA and mobilizes undocumented youth as well as U.S. citizens to support undocumented immigrants’ rights. She is a graduate of Cal State Los Angeles, where she earned a bachelor’s in communications and political science in two years.
Klingenfuss and other Dreamers, or DACA recipients, had been hoping Congress would pass a “clean” Dream Act by January 19 that didn’t hinge on funding a border wall with Mexico. Democrats in favor of the Dream Act have pushed Republicans to come up with a solution for Dreamers by February 8. But last week, the Trump administration proposed a pathway to citizenship for as many as 1.8 million undocumented youth. However, it would take Dreamers up to 12 years to obtain citizenship. Trump’s deal also requires a $25 billion commitment to build a border wall.
Trump’s proposal is a worst-case scenario, said Itayu P., who is attending tonight’s address as the guest of Congressman Jimmy Gomez.
Itayu, who is 19 and didn’t want to give her last name, hopes that the Dreamers at tonight’s speech will move the hearts of Congress members to pass a clean Dream Act. But “I will use whatever [Trump] says on Tuesday and bring it to my immigrant community, just so we know what to expect and how strong we have to [remain],” she said.
Itayu completed her first year at Hood College in Maryland but didn’t return in the fall because of uncertainty over what her legal status would mean for her education. She is now taking classes at Pasadena City College and plans to return to Hood College in the fall if a Dream Act or other permanent solution is passed.
“I’m used to the struggles,” said Itayu, who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico by her parents when she was 6 months old. She found out she was undocumented at age 14. “You learn from the struggles, and you keep growing as a person. We’re not falling apart now. We’ll keep fighting.”
Itayu joined the California Dream Network last year and said it has taught her to channel her frustration into fighting for her rights.
“I hope Trump has a heart not only for the 800,000 DACA immigrants but for the other 11 million immigrants and that he does the right thing.”
Klingenfuss is also used to struggles. Fighting for a Dream Act is not her first battle. Making it to college even though she felt she didn’t have adequate support from her school counselors is a battle she has already won.
She attended LA Unified’s John Burroughs Middle School and Fairfax High School, where she said the staff didn’t know how to adequately support her as an undocumented student. “I had to find myself my way into college,” said Klingenfuss, who was brought at age 9 to the U.S. from Guatemala by her mother. “LAUSD being such a huge school district not being able to provide the support, it just adds to the hurdle.”
An estimated 30 percent to 40 percent of LA Unified’s students are children of mixed-status immigrant families and could be affected by deportation, according to CARECEN.
Because her mother works in education, she was able to direct her to the resources she needed to get to college. Her mother is also an immigrant and works as an educator at an LA charter school, which she declined to name.
“I had the motivation to overcome struggles such as not having anyone to help me meet my deadlines for application — these are different for undocumented students. Many of us made it, but too many undocumented students often don’t have access to higher education because we don’t have the same opportunities.”
Itayu also said that, as an undocumented student, she didn’t have enough support in high school. She attended Alliance Marc & Eva Stern Math and Science High School, a charter high school with a “supportive environment,” but she felt that her counselors were not prepared to help her with the resources she needed as an undocumented student. “My counselor was not aware of the California Dream Act process, for example, but was able to help me with the SAT exam and my college application,” she said.
“Whether you have DACA, you qualify for the Dream Act, or not, all undocumented students have a right to education,” Itayu said. “We should continue our education regardless of this situation.”
In other DACA news for local college students, undocumented students at the nine Los Angeles community colleges will be able to tap a new fund to pay for their DACA renewals.
The chancellor of the Los Angeles Community Colleges District, Francisco Rodríguez, and Assemblymember Miguel Santiago announced over the weekend the creation of a fund that will pay the $495 permit renewal fee for eligible DACA students and help them process their applications.
The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles and other immigrants’ rights organizations are contributing to the fund.
Rodríguez said that enrollment at all nine colleges has dropped since President Trump announced in September that he would phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Because many of the community colleges’ 11,000 undocumented students are DACA recipients, Rodriguez said at a Saturday news conference at Los Angeles City College that he wanted to send a message of support and assure them that LACCD will support them in their education.
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