Rockville resident Sara Monterroso wanted to be alone in her bedroom Tuesday as she watched Attorney General Jeff Sessions announce plans to end the federal program that protects her from deportation.
The 20-year-old Montgomery College student said she livestreamed Sessions’ public statement hoping for good news, even though she knew the odds were against her. She was devastated as she heard Sessions declare the Trump administration in six months would begin rolling back the Obama-era program for undocumented immigrants who came to America as children. But her sadness quickly gave way to a sense of purpose.
“You immediately go into action and try to figure out what we can do. We’re not going to sit here and count the days until March 5,” said Monterroso, who arrived in the U.S. from Guatemala at age 4.
Monterroso is one of about 300 Montgomery College students who are processing President Donald Trump’s move to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Trump is calling on congressional lawmakers to pass a replacement measure before the program ends.
Local Latino youth advocate Diego Uriburu estimated that several thousand DACA recipients live in Montgomery County, of the roughly 800,000 who have qualified for the program nationwide.
While this week’s announcement has set them on edge, Monterroso said many are responding by coming out of the shadows and looking for ways to make a difference. After she shared her story on NBC4 this week, Monterroso said some of her closest friends have contacted her to reveal that they, too, are DACA recipients.
Sara Monterroso, 20, of Rockville is a Montgomery College student and DACA recipient. Via Sara Monterroso.
In coming months, Uriburu, executive director of Identity Inc. in Gaithersburg, and Monterroso said they will be asking Congress to replace DACA with a more long-term measure to shield young immigrants from deportation. Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard said she’s already drafted a letter to Maryland’s congressional representatives, asking them to act on behalf of DACA students.
“They’re scared, and many of them don’t have home countries to go back to,” Pollard said. “They are American in everything except their birth certificate.”
Pollard said DACA students and "dreamers”—undocumented students who receive the lowest tuition rates through the Maryland Dream Act—have expressed particular concern about the student information the college keeps on file. College officials are assuring them that their information is safe and would be withheld from any authorities lacking a subpoena, she said.
Kleily Castro, 18, of Burtonsville said her parents brought her from Guatemala to the United States when she was 2 years old to escape violence and seek a brighter future. Castro, 18, said she applied for her first two years of protection from deportation a few years after President Obama initiated the DACA program in 2012. Since then, she’s been able to earn her driver’s license, obtain a work permit and land a job at a driver’s education school. The DACA program also gave her and her parents a greater sense of security.
“My parents felt like it was a weight off their shoulders to have me protected. They felt like as long as I’m OK, they can breathe a little,” she said.
With the incoming president’s focus on immigration enforcement, Castro’s mother encouraged her to renew her DACA status a few months early, just in case something happened to the program. Uriburi said many others have likewise been hurrying to apply for another two years of protection.
Monterroso said her family couldn’t afford the roughly $500 fee to enroll her in the DACA program at first, but she finally secured the protected status in 2016. She and her twin sister burst into tears when they received their acceptance letters, she said.
The sisters started working at an ice cream shop in Rockville and began contributing toward the family bills and paying for college courses, she said. For the first time, Monterroso even had a little spending money.
“Trips to the mall are very rare in my life, so being able to go to the mall and saying, ‘I think I want these pair of shoes,’ and paying for them with my own money that I made legally … was just great,” she said.
Uriburo said his organization now employs seven DACA recipients and would suffer financial hardship if their permission to work was rescinded. Many other Montgomery County employers are in the same boat, he added.
“Many [DACA recipients] are homeowners now and have wonderful careers. Now, everything is in limbo,” he said. “We’re really hoping Congress gets its act together and passes a bill that would protect them.”