The tropical storms wreaking havoc in the Caribbean have spared Jeunee Roberts’ birthplace, the island country of Trinidad and Tobago. It’s here in the United States, though, that a political storm threatens to tear apart her life.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump announced the end to an Obama-era immigration policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Under DACA, undocumented children brought here by their parents could come out of the shadows to obtain a renewable two-year deferral from deportation and a work permit.
Without DACA, Roberts might not have been able to step out of those shadows and register for school at Utah State University. But she is a “Dreamer” — the term used to describe the program’s nearly 800,000 participants. She didn’t have to be afraid to stand in line at a place like the Office of the Registrar, the university’s record-keepers.
That’s where she was, unafraid, when she heard the announcement — she could no longer call herself a Dreamer.
“I felt sick,” she said. “Instantly I just thought about everything I could lose in that moment.”
That night, Roberts said, she got up, gasped and threw up while she wondered, “How can I continue my education?”
University officials weighed in on the announcement in vocal support of Dreamers across the country and called for swift action to keep USU’s DACA recipients in good standing.
In a Tuesday letter addressed to Utah’s senators and representatives, the presidents of eight Utah higher education institutions, including USU President Noelle Cockett, urged lawmakers to act quickly to provide educational opportunities to students “no matter their background or circumstance.”
“We urge you to support a legislative solution as soon as possible to enable all students who have grown up in the United States to continue contributing to their communities and classrooms in ways made possible by higher education,” the letter states. “Utah college students at our eight institutions known as Dreamers are working hard to better themselves and have deeply enriched their campus communities.”
“We appreciate each of you, as our elected representatives, proactively voicing support for those who came to this country as children and the positive impact they have in our communities,” it states.
In a statement, the White House called the change an “orderly transition and wind-down of DACA, one that provides minimum disruption.” Trump’s announcement said DACA recipients will have their current expiration dates honored, and he challenged the United States congress in a tweet to “legalize DACA” in the six months before permits will begin to expire.
Most legislators in Utah came out in support of the president’s decision to rescind the program and put the burden on Congress to pass legislation.
However, one legislator — Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT — urged Trump not to rescind DACA because it puts recipients “who were brought here as children through no fault of their own, in an extremely difficult position,” Hatch said in a statement.
The majority of Utah’s congressional delegation called for swift legislation that supports the young immigrants.
“As a child of immigrant parents, I am sensitive to the position in which young undocumented immigrants find themselves. From the beginning, Congress should have taken the lead in crafting a solution to this issue,” Rep. Mia Love, R-UT, said in a statement.
Roberts was nine when she arrived to the United States with her parents. They were in search of opportunities that couldn’t be found among the white sand beaches and tropical forests of Trinidad. She grew up in midtown New York and watched her mother clean apartments for $20.
Now, only three weeks away from her 24th birthday, Roberts found herself reflecting on her American life.
“All of my memories are here, all my friends are here, my life is here,” she said. “This is it for me — I don’t have anything else.”
In a decision that changed the course of her life, Roberts left the “hustle and bustle” of New York for USU. It was different — the culture and the people. It was foreign to her, but she said her faith in God pushed her forward and eventually she applied for DACA.
After a lengthy application process and $500, it came — peace of mind came printed on an 8½x11 paper. It meant she could get a job and finally buy a car. She had a social security card and all of it was paper proof she was something she felt most of her life — American, she said.
Roberts said she’s paid taxes, worked jobs and contributed to social security.
But today she feels uncertain, scared and confused that she’ll be able to continue to do those things and is looking to the university for that peace of mind again.
“If they cut you right now and they cut me, we are going to bleed the same color,” Roberts said, tears streaming down her face. “These are humans that you have under your roof, that put trust in a university to guide them and shelter them. You can’t just throw them out when things start to look bad. They want help, need help and are begging for even one last chance.”
Since Trump’s announcement, other groups on campus have spoken out against the decision to end DACA.
“Termination of DACA directly impacts some members of Aggie Family,” an Aggie Think, Care, Act post said on Facebook. “These are our friends and classmates who were raised here, and they now face being sent away from the only home they have known. When we think about that, how can we not care?”
The USU Access and Diversity Center pointed students to academic and counseling services and implored students to visit with the center’s directors and coordinators.
“Please remember you are students in an institution that supports you and there are state-wide policies in place that Dreamers can access to achieve and succeed in higher education,” the center said in a Facebook statement.
It’s support Roberts needs but it doesn’t change the fact that her education is in jeopardy.
“I was the best Aggie I could be,” Roberts said. “I worked hard for the organizations I worked for, countless hours. It was about coming to a place and changing lives.”
“Now it’s like, I need some help; where are you guys?” she continued. “Don’t throw me away.”