Many students embrace support roles for peers in the wake of DACA repeal

By Jackeline Lizama

The day after Donald Trump was elected president, Rubi Franco Quiroz, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, was in a class where the professor was speaking about the election. He discussed how people lashing out on Trump supporters would not help anyone.

Quiroz was in tears during the discussion. She knew that the election would affect her life negatively. The professor saw how upset Quiroz was but continued speaking on the issue and openly asked the class, “How can we move forward and do things to support students like Rubi?”

“When she said that I was completely caught off guard and I couldn’t stay in the classroom any longer, and I left.” Quiroz said. “I didn’t feel like I had a place to go.”

From embarrassment to empowerment

After this experience, Quiroz felt it was her responsibility to make sure that nobody would have to experience the embarrassment and discomfort she had felt, or that anyone, especially DACA students, have a place to go to within the university.

For many people, the day after the 2016 presidential election meant end of the talk of politics for another term, but for others it meant their life could potentially change. Less than a year after the election, the Trump administration decided to repeal the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA.

Thousands of “Dreamers,” as DACA recipients are called, including Quiroz have expressed fear and worry about what will happen in the upcoming months now that DACA no longer exists.

“There is just so many people, so many brilliant people, so close to the end line and I feel like it is my job to really advocate for them and for myself,” Quiroz said.

Quiroz organizes many events at UNC-CH to raise awareness about DACA, and speaks on behalf of other DACA recipients. She also serves as a mentor and family instructor for Scholar’s Latino Initiative, an organization that helps Latino and Latina high school students excel in their academic careers.

She has been working very closely with the administration at UNC-CH for nearly two years to try to implement resources for undocumented students.

“Obviously with DACA being rescinded there’s a huge urgency around gaining more support for undocumented people in general, now more than ever,” Quiroz said

Scholarly success does not always translate to security

Quiroz came to the United States from the border town Reynosa in Tamaulipas, Mexico when she was 6 years old. She grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and has lived in the town for 15 years.

During Quiroz’s senior year of high school, she was in the top five percent of her graduating class. She was active in her school and her community, and did everything she was advised to do to get into a good college.

After everything she did in high school, she felt betrayed when applying to colleges was her biggest struggle. Quiroz applied to 27 colleges out of fear she was not going to get into any of them because of her immigration status.

“I never imagined that it was going to be that difficult for me to be sure that I was going to continue my education, which is all I had ever wanted,” Quiroz said.

Even though she has lived the majority of her life in North Carolina, she is still expected to pay for out-of-state tuition at UNC-CH. DACA has allowed Quiroz to work jobs within the university and receive the tax refunds that were being withheld from her before she had a social security number. Quiroz is able to have everything she owns and that her parents own under her name, but could essentially have it all taken away now that DACA has been rescinded.

Kristen Gardner met Quiroz during her first year at UNC-CH as a part of the Carolina Hispanic Association, where Quiroz was director of communications.

“She is a driven individual that has fought through various personal battles, but still makes fighting for others her first priority,” Gardner said. “I deeply respect her for her work especially in advocacy concerning immigrant rights.”

Quiroz also worked on the One State, One Rate campaign with Gardner to advocate for in-state tuition rates for undocumented students. “Advocacy work is always taxing and frustrating, but Rubi has been a dedicated leader over the years, never stepping down from the challenges,” Gardner said.

Devotion to the dream

Barbara Sostaita, a second-year UNC graduate student in religious studies, hosted an event with Quiroz called “DACA in Crisis” on September 18, just a few weeks after the DACA program was rescinded. It was meant to raise awareness and provide a safe space for undocumented students. The event filled the auditorium, with over 500 people in attendance. The event hosted a panel of speakers including a current undocumented student, an undocumented alumni student, and two lawyers from two different firms in order to educate and properly support DACA students.

Quiroz is dedicated to helping her community in any way she can. What keeps her motivated to continue speaking on this issue is the hope that perhaps someday she could help her own parents.

She has seen all the hard work and sacrifices her parents have made for her and she would feel like she would be failing them if she did not speak up. “As I have always told everyone, they are truly the heroes in this story,” Quiroz said.

“I feel like it’s now my duty to protect them and make sure that their lives aren’t at risk, and I can’t do that if my own is. I can’t protect them if I have no grounds to protect myself.”

Quiroz is graduating in May of 2018, and will be working at a job she is very passionate about at the Student Success Agency. She is committed to advocating for her fellow Dreamers now more than ever.

Edited by Jack Smith