Discussing DACA: Recipient, activist and lawyer call for immigration reform

On the large white projection screen behind the stage in the Forum, quotes from local college students from Framingham State, MassBay and other schools were displayed while approximately 75 audience members entered the room on Feb. 22.

These quotes described the experience of being a DACA recipient, with several expressing frustration about the continuing “talk” of protection for the 800,000 DREAMers, children brought to the United States by undocumented parents.

Other recipients described their experiences growing up in this country as difficult, often being made to feel “different” for their lack of citizenship status. Some saw DACA as a “trap,” not truly doing enough to help immigrants.

The resounding theme of these student messages was hope for positive change. None of the students blamed their parents for taking them to this country for the hope of a better life and opportunities to succeed. According to these quotes, most immigrants want to overcome false stereotypes, and show that they have just as much to offer as any other citizen of the United States.

The event, “And Now What? The Present and Futures of ‘DACA-mented’ Youth,” was organized primarily by Framingham State senior Palloma Jovita as part of the Arts & Ideas series, focusing on “Duty and Disobedience.”

Jovita has been involved in the American immigration system almost her entire life, as her family immigrated to the U.S. from Brazil when she was 5. During her talk, Jovita described the harsh obstacles she and her family were forced to overcome in pursuit of a brighter future. “When we first arrived, we came straight to Framingham. We lived in a basement where we all shared a mattress, and stayed there for about a year. … Over time we moved again and again. Today, my parents have been able to buy a house, and I’m very proud of both of them,” she said.

Much of the event consisted of a podcast conversation between Jovita and Hendel Leiva, a filmmaker and immigrant rights activist whose past experiences of participating in racism and discrimination against immigrants led him to create the film “From One Mistake: How Immigration Became My Very Personal Fight.”

During the conversation, Leiva asked Jovita about an incident involving a police officer who responded to a call from Jovita’s father, after their car had been broken into. Jovita explained the impactful moment occurred when she was only 11, and taught her early on “what her status meant in this country.”

“Naturally, he called the cops,” she said. “But when the cop got there, he didn’t even look at the car.He just looked at us, and told us to go back to wherever we came from, and if we called again, he would call ICE on us. Then he just left.”

Leiva compared this racist act to one in his hometown of Long Island, New York, where a police sergeant was pulling over undocumented immigrants and stealing money from them. Leiva noted how events like these “lead to a fear of authority.”

Jovita also spoke about sexual harassment that she experienced at almost every job she held growing up, and the dehumanizing ways employers can use the status of undocumented workers as leverage to keep them silent in cases of harassment.

She said, “I feel like a lot of times, especially minority women, they go through sexual harassment, but they feel like they’re too scared to come forward because if they do, they might be deported or seen as a victim.”

Despite her long struggle, Jovitasaid she has been able to overcome her obstacles, and has worked relentlessly to advance herself in school and in her career. She said DACA helped her do what she really wanted, which was getting an education, “I wouldn’t be sitting where I am today if it wasn’t for DACA.”

After the podcast concluded, local immigration lawyer and former FSU instructor Jason Giannetti took the podium to discuss the current state of DACA and what civilians could do to help keep it alive for DREAMers.

Giannetti identified President Donald Trump as the sole figure to blame for much of the renewed demonization of undocumented immigrants.

“[Trump] has said, ‘Oh, Congress will figure it out’ by the March 23 deadline. But Congress hasn’t figured it out … at least in part because he has been tweeting all during their open session of debate, undermining any possible progress or compromise.”

Freshman Zain Said said he thought it was “informative,” and coming from a family of Egyptian immigrants, he wanted to come to the event to bring new information back home. “Information is power.”

Jovita said the event went “really well, and that happened because of the people who came – the support. … We had talked for over a year to plan this event, and I wanted to make it really big. … I couldn’t be happier with how it went. I loved our speakers.”

The message Jovita wanted to leave the audience with most of all was the need for a change in attitude toward immigrants.

“Don’t forget, immigrants are people. We have feelings. We have dreams. I want to do better for my future. I want to make a difference,” she said.