As the national debate over immigration rages, a group of Cal Poly students is finding a way to make undocumented voices heard.
Immigrants, especially those who came to the United States illegally, have faced a great deal of uncertainty since President Donald Trump — who continually used anti-immigrant rhetoric throughout his campaign — was elected nearly a year ago.
In response, a group of Cal Poly students recently started dreamersnow.com, a website that allows young people brought to the United States as children, known as Dreamers, to share their stories anonymously.
“It grew out of all this negativity that’s going around,” said Diana, 21, an environmental engineering student who runs the group’s social media accounts. The Tribune is not using Diana’s full name because she is undocumented and wants to protect her identity.
Since Trump took office, he’s continued to express a desire to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, has given greater powers to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to arrest and deport undocumented individuals and, most recently, rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.
President Barack Obama enacted the DACA program in 2012. It delays immigration enforcement for individuals who were brought to the country as children for two years and allows them to receive work permits, go to college and get driver’s licenses.
Trump rescinded the DACA program in September, giving Congress six months to figure out a permanent policy before officially ending it.
Those already enrolled in the program were allowed to keep their status, and those in the process of reapplying had a small window to submit their applications. However, no new applications are being accepted.
We are fighters. We’re here for a reason.
Diana, a Cal Poly environmental engineering student and DACA recipient
Around that time, Moises Bautista, 29, an industrial engineering major, came up with the idea for the Dreamers Now website. Those who submit stories to the website can keep their names private and submit a photo of something meaningful to them. Those who are comfortable being more open about their immigration status can attach their names and photos.
The Dreamers Now team posts the stories in full — they check only for grammatical errors.
Bautista called the site a “safe space” for Dreamers to share their journeys. So far, the site has eight stories, and the organizers are trying to spread the word so others can add their experiences. They said the site has received about 7,000 views, so they know it’s attracting interest.
“We don’t want to disclose too much, so they’re at risk,” Diana said. “But we want to give them credit.”
The plight of Dreamers is close to the site founders’ hearts. Bautista came to the United States illegally about 12 years ago, fleeing drug cartel violence in Michoacán, Mexico. Because he crossed the border when he was 17, Bautista wasn’t eligible for the DACA program, which required recipients to be 16 years old or younger when they entered the country.
While living in the Bay Area, Bautista was robbed in a coffee shop where he was working on his homework. After the incident, in 2015, he was able to get a U visa, which is given to victims of criminal activity.
“That really changed everything,” he said.
I just feel that I always need to be giving back to my community
Moises Bautista, a Cal Poly industrial engineering student
The U visa expires in 2019, but Bautista will be eligible to apply for a green card after three years. He eventually plans to become a U.S. citizen.
Bautista worked his way through community college and will graduate from Cal Poly in December. Now that he’s on the path to getting his green card, Bautista wants to help others who were once in his shoes.
“I just feel that I always need to be giving back to my community,” he said.
Diana is a DACA participant who was brought to the United States from Oaxaca, Mexico, when she was 2 years old. She was raised in Santa Maria and said the DACA program “opened a lot of doors for me.”
“Before that, I was just a statistic for the Census Bureau,” she said. “It was just a whole validation of my existence.”
Diana will graduate from Cal Poly in 2018, and her DACA status will expire in January 2019, so she’s concerned about her career prospects after college. In spite of the uncertainty, Diana says she wants to help her community have a voice.
“We are fighters,” she said. “We’re here for a reason.”
Visit dreamersnow.com to read about Dreamers’ experiences or share your own story.