Undocumented students at the University of Central Florida held a forum Wednesday afternoon to inform students on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama-era program that provided protection from deportation to individuals meeting certain requirements.
The forum, hosted by Dreamers at UCF, was paneled by students Bernabe Soriano, Karen Caudillo, and Fernán Lauro—all of whom are DACA beneficiaries. Kevin Ortiz, the president of the organization who also benefited from the program, moderated the event.
Following the White House’s announcement that DACA will be rescinded beginning March 6, beneficiaries—also known as Dreamers—and their supporters scrambled to lobby Congress to pass a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants who arrived as children to stay in the US.
Caudillo, a 21-year old political science student who arrived from Mexico at four years old, quickly became a nationally-recognized face following the announcement. She attended Florida schools after her family settled in Naples, receiving an Associate’s degree at Miami-Dade College before enrolling at UCF.
“It was convenient to have DACA and have a normal experience and do all the things I’m doing in college,” Caudillo said.
The other panelists had similar experiences as Caudillo. Soriano, for instance, was also born in Mexico and emigrated at the age of seven when his family arrived in Los Angeles and eventually settled in Okeechobee. From there, he attended schools but at first had a hard time communicating with classmates.
“It wasn’t like I said, ‘oh, let me make some friends,’” Soriano, a 20-year old sophomore, said. “I had to communicate, sometimes with my hands, to get to class and where I needed to be.”
At UCF, he is the treasurer of Dreamers at UCF and the Latin American Student Association. His involvement, he said, will hopefully “leave a legacy so when people hear my name they know what I did.”
Lauro, 19, was the only non-Mexican panelist. Born in Mendoza, Argentina, he arrived in the US after finishing the first grade. His parents had told him that they were going on a family vacation.
“To this day, we’re still on that vacation,” Lauro, a film student, said.
But Ortiz, the 26-year old president of Dreamers at UCF who studies finance, made clear that “DACA students have many narratives” and noted that there are students from countries beyond Latin America who benefit from the program.
While the panelists consider UCF to be a safe space for them, Ortiz is cautious since he said “we don’t yet have an official letter of support” from UCF President John Hitt.
Hitt has voiced support for DACA in the past. Soon after Trump’s election last November, Hitt was a signatory to a statement calling on Trump to preserve the program. On Sept. 5, following the administration’s decision to end the program, he released a statement pledging to “do everything in our power to support students while following the law.”
Soriano, the sophomore, works at UCF as a resident assistant. He said that he was reassured that he can continue to work “until my DACA expires.” Until then, he said, he wants to continue to build his legacy and advocate for people like him.
“We as Dreamers, as a group, we want to be a powerful voice,” he said.
Dreamers at UCF, along with the College Democrats at UCF and other student and community organization, will be staging a rally in favor of DACA Thursday at noon on the Student Union patio stage.