TWIN FALLS — Delia Barragan was shocked to hear news last week about a program winding down that protects undocumented youth from deportation.
“It has been a very stressful week,” the 18-year-old said Friday. “You have everything planned out, and then suddenly it feels like your dreams are shattered.”
Barragan — who was brought to the United States as a 5-year-old — grew up in Jerome. She has held status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly referred to as DACA, for three years and her current status expires in October 2018.
She’s studying general business at the College of Southern Idaho and hopes to graduate in May with an associate degree. Her dream is to either become a corporate lawyer or start her own equine business.
But now, Barragan has questions about what’s going to happen — and how she could pursue a career.
“It’s a difficult time for me and my family,” she said.
She’s scared about the federal government having personal information from her DACA application. “What if one day someone comes and looks for me and takes my whole family?”
President Donald Trump announced last week no new applications will be accepted for DACA and Congress will have six months to find a more permanent legislative fix.
It’s unclear how many south-central Idaho students are affected by the decision. That’s because many school districts and colleges — including CSI, Twin Falls School District, Jerome School District and Wendell School District — don’t track how many of their students are DACA recipients.
Those already enrolled in DACA remain covered until their permits expire. If their permits expire before March, 5, 2018, they are eligible to renew them for another two years as long as they apply by Oct. 5.
DACA was created by President Barack Obama in 2012 after intense pressure from immigrant advocates who wanted protections for the young immigrants who were brought across the border by family members and mostly raised in the U.S. but lacked legal status.
The program protects them from deportation, granting them a two-year reprieve that can be extended and by issuing them a work permit and a social security number.
DACA recipients must have no criminal record, proof they were brought to the U.S. before age 16 and be under 31 when the program was launched, but at least 15 years old when applying. The application cost is nearly $500.
DACA does not give beneficiaries legal U.S. residency. Recipients get temporary reprieves from deportation and permission to temporarily work.
Meet three CSI students who are affected:
Delia Barragan, 18
Barragan has received DACA status since she was 15 years old. She has a younger brother who was born in the United States, but has cousins and friends who also have DACA status.
Barragan is on track to graduate in May from CSI. “I got ahead with dual credits in high school, so I’m considered a sophomore in college right now,” she said.
When it comes to DACA, “a lot of people don’t have the full story of it,” Barragan said.
When President Trump was elected, she said, he stated he wanted to remove people from the United States who are criminals — not children.
But now, “that’s who he’s targeting with his decision,” Barragan said about youth with DACA status.
Getting the status is a rigorous process with many requirements, she said, and youth are going to school or working. “I think that’s who he’d want in the country. I think it’s quite unfair.”
Arturo Pena, 19
Pena woke up early Sept. 5 and turned on the television to see if there was any news about DACA.
He knew it was a possibility his status may be in flux, but he was still holding out hope. But once he heard about the decision, that changed.
“I started tearing up because it felt like my dreams were crushed,” he said.
Pena — who grew up in Wendell and graduated from Wendell High School — first received DACA status four years ago as a high school student. His current status expires in April.
Pena has been in the United States for 16 years. He was one day shy of his fourth birthday when his grandmother crossed the border with him into the United States. They joined his mother, who had already crossed into the U.S.
He doesn’t have any memory of the experience crossing the border.
Among his relatives in the United States, “everyone in my family is undocumented,” he said.
When DACA was announced, it was a big opportunity to continue his education, work legally and get a driver’s license without having to worry about being deported, he said.
After high school, Pena moved to Arizona with plans to enroll at Arizona State University, where he was accepted. But he said he was charged tuition as a foreign student, and it was way too expensive, so he never started classes.
A month ago, he moved back to south-central Idaho. He plans to enroll at CSI in January to study animal science.
Because he’s undocumented, Pena can’t apply for federal financial aid to help pay for college. That means he has to rely on paying out-of-pocket for tuition, with his family’s help, and applying for private scholarships.
Ultimately, Pena wants to become a surgical technician. And on a broader scale, “I wish there could be a path to citizenship for DACA students,” he said, adding he has earned good grades in school. “Hopefully, Congress gives us DACA back with maybe some regulations or something.”
As for the future, “my family is ready for whatever comes,” he said. “I don’t know Mexico. I was raised here. I don’t know any other home other than the United States.”
Pena said his family is depending on him to be successful under DACA and to build a better life. “I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on me because I was given the opportunity, but it was taken away from me.”
Eunise Vargas, 18
Vargas first received DACA status as a young teenager. She said her parents came to the United States on an approved visitor visa, but she’s not sure what happened after that. They don’t talk about it.
Vargas has been in the U.S. since she was 2 years old. She grew up in Wendell and graduated from Wendell High School.
Her parents are the ones who pursued DACA status for Vargas and her two siblings. Vargas’ current DACA status is slated to expire in October 2018.
It’s her first year of college and she has been focusing on getting good grades in her classes. She’s also a cheerleader and ambassador at CSI.
She’s studying criminal justice and her ultimate career goal is to become a homicide detective. “Any person going into that area, you have to start out as a police officer,” she said.
Vargas saw snippets of information about DACA circulating on Facebook, but hadn’t followed the news closely. “At first, I wasn’t really aware of what was happening,” she said.
Her father called to explain the news to her. “He was really bummed out about it,” Vargas said, but encouraged her to keep moving forward with her education.
“I find it very unfair that we’re being treated this way, I guess,” she said. “It just sucks that everything I’ve worked for could just disappear.”
Vargas said it’s upsetting and confusing some Americans want DACA recipients who work and pay taxes to leave the country. She said she has dreams just like any other American.
“It’s really hard to not worry about it,” she said. “I don’t know Mexico. America is my home.”