Recent UI graduate fighting to keep his Dream alive

Recent UI graduate fighting to keep his Dream alive

With his newly minted bachelor's degree, University of Illinois graduate Jaime Nolasco has big plans: Apply to law school, become a public interest attorney and work for a nonprofit where he can make a difference.

But his future depends on lawmakers in Washington, D.C., reaching some sort of compromise on immigration.

Nolasco, 23, is one of 42,000 young Americans in Illinois, and an estimated 800,000 nationwide, known as "Dreamers" — children brought to this country illegally by their parents.

The 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program offered them temporary legal status and a Social Security number so they could get a work permit and access to a decent job.

But President Donald Trump announced Sept. 5 that he would end the program on March 5.

Nolasco applied for DACA status in June but hasn't received a decision from the government, leaving him in "limbo."

It hasn't stopped him from speaking out. Sporting a jacket and bow tie, Nolasco joined more than 100 other Dreamers this week in Washington, lobbying legislators to approve a permanent fix for DACA by Jan. 19 — the deadline for a federal budget resolution — and not wait until the protections expire in March. Several senators said Thursday a bipartisan compromise was within reach, though that was before Trump's latest incendiary comments on immigration from Haiti and Africa.

"There are folks who are losing their DACA permits today, there are some who are losing them tomorrow or the week after — approximately 122 per day," Nolasco said, quoting statistics from the Center for American Progress.

Under Trump's order, DACA recipients could renew their permits if they were scheduled to expire before March 5, but they had to do it by Oct. 5. Any that expired after March 5 could not be renewed.

"People are losing their work, their jobs, potentially their lives," Nolasco said. "They are at risk for deportation."

Champaign immigration attorney Matt Kuenning said he saw an increase in DACA clients seeking to renew their status between Sept. 5 and Oct. 5, and he knew of one woman who didn't renew her permit in time. Others have sought advice about how to obtain legal status, given that they weren't going to have DACA protections anymore, he said. He wasn't aware of anyone being deported because they lost their DACA status.

"I think that it's unfortunate that there's not a permanent legal status for the people who qualify for DACA," Kuenning said. "This is a class of people who have largely grown up in the United States, who have attended school in the United States. Many of them don't speak Spanish as well as they speak English."

'A better future'

DACA is open to undocumented immigrants who were younger than 31 as of June 15, 2012, when President Barack Obama approved the program. They had to have arrived in the United States before their 16th birthday and before June 15, 2007.

Nolasco was a toddler when his mother brought him to the U.S. from Mexico City in the 1990s. His grandfather, the family breadwinner, had died shortly after Nolasco was born, and his mom "just wanted a better future for me," he said. "She didn't have a sense of stability back home."

He doesn't remember anything about Mexico, and speaks English better than Spanish; "I'm actually brushing up on Spanish," he said.

Nolasco and his mom, who lives in Chicago, paid his tuition out of pocket, as he wasn't able to apply for financial aid. He put off applying for DACA status because of the nearly $500 cost.

"Our focus was paying for my school," he said. "It was definitely a big struggle for me to even attend, let alone graduate."

At the UI, he was active with I-CAUSE, a group that helps undocumented immigrants, and also worked as a voter registration coordinator for state Rep. Carol Ammons.

Nolasco said he's never been to Mexico and would have nowhere to go if he were sent back.

"This place is my home," he said. "Ever since I stepped foot in this country I've shown nothing but patriotic love for this country. I pledge the pledge of allegiance. I attended a public university. I do community service. I'm American by definition, except I lack a piece of paper."

'A face to this story'

He hopes by sharing his story he can persuade legislators to take action.

"There has to be a face to this story," he said.

The DACA advocates were organized by, a bipartisan organization founded by tech companies to promote immigration reform and other issues.

Nolasco spent Monday through Thursday in Washington meeting with members of Illinois' congressional delegation — including Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville. Staff members for Davis said he is committed to finding a permanent fix, Nolasco said.

He was buoyed by the reports of bipartisan compromise this week, saying there seems to be "an overall consensus to fix DACA."

A federal judge this week also temporarily blocked plans to end DACA while a lawsuit challenging Trump's decision moves ahead. U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco said the nearly 690,000 DACA recipients must retain their work permits and protection from deportation in the meantime, and those who failed to renew their status last fall should be allowed to do so. However, he said the government does not have to process any new applicants.

Kuenning said there will almost certainly be an emergency appeal of the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has ruled against Trump on other immigration matters. That means the issue will likely wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.

Kuenning said he's worked with about 40 DACA clients over time, and estimated there are hundreds in Champaign-Urbana.

Nolasco said DACA isn't a "giveaway," but a merit system with rigorous requirements for people who are motivated to attend college, serve in the military or start a business.

"It's meant to incorporate those who have been marginalized in society," he said.

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scott_tapley wrote on January 12, 2018 at 12:01 pm

Why isn't a more balanced story being told instead of pretending that all of the DACA recipients are like this seemingly admirable college-educated individual?

From the Center for Immigration Studies' website:

Below are findings from Harvard University researcher Roberto G. Gonzales, National UnDACAmented Research Project research based on an online survey of just over 2,000 self-described DACA-eligible respondents and about 200 follow-up interviews (Gonzales believes that for a variety of reasons, the respondents are more educated and well-off than the DACA population as a whole) that contradict the false image portrayed in this N-G article:

  • 73 percent of DACA recipients surveyed live in a low-income household (defined as qualifying for free lunch in high school);
  • 22 percent have earned a degree from a four-year college or university;
  • 20 percent have dropped out of high school;
  • 20 percent have no education beyond high school and no plans to attend college

Prominent Democrat staffer Jennifer Palmieri recently admitted in a leaked memo that DACA is "a critical component of the Democratic Party's future electoral success."  The entire memo is available here:


That's the real story.

CallSaul wrote on January 12, 2018 at 12:01 pm

And of course the 'Center for Immigration Studies' is a vile racist anti immigration website attached to the disgusting anti immigrant Know Nothing bigots at Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)...

They present lies and twisted informatoin to further their racism and anti immigrant attitude that is nothing more than bigotry against non white immigrants.

These racists think they can hide their racism and bigotry...

...they of course can't...

BruckJr wrote on January 12, 2018 at 3:01 pm

Did he pay the rate of tuition for international students while attending the university?  How was it that he could afford a trip to Washington yet couldn't afford to apply for DACA status?