DACA Student Under Trump: 'I Am Still Woven Into The Fabric Of This Country'

Jan 18, 2017
Originally published on January 19, 2017 1:02 pm

All Things Considered co-host Ari Shapiro is on a road trip leading up to the inauguration of Donald Trump on Jan. 20. He is driving through North Carolina and Virginia, on the way to Washington, D.C. These are two swing states that went in opposite directions in November, each by a close margin: North Carolina for Trump, Virginia for Hillary Clinton. As the country faces dramatic changes, we're asking people what they want from that change — and what concerns them.

Juan de la Rosa Diaz did not actually vote — even though he has a lot riding on the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

He is in his last year as a political science major at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., and on a recent day, the 20-year-old is proudly wearing a T-shirt that says, "I am undocumented."

Juan came to the U.S. from Mexico with his parents when he was 5 years old. He has sisters who were born here; they're American citizens.

Juan always knew he was undocumented, and that he had to keep it a secret, but he only really understood what it meant when he turned 16 and all of his friends started getting driver's licenses.

"For all of high school, all of my friends just thought I was a really bad driver, and that's why I didn't have a license," he says. "When you're undocumented, you get really good at lying, all these little white lies that you use to build a barrier that protects you and your family. It's not only my secret, it's my family's secret."

In 2012, President Obama signed an executive action that changed things for Juan. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, meant that he didn't have to lie anymore, and could get a driver's license and permission to work.

Juan went to college, with plans to get a doctorate degree and become a university professor.

Donald Trump campaigned on undoing all of that, and Juan worries about what a Trump presidency means not only for himself and his education, but of that of other DACA students.

Despite his fears and feelings of betrayal, though, Juan says he still feels a strong connection to the United States.

"I very much consider myself woven into the fabric of this country, because it's taught me everything I know, it's given me so many opportunities," he says.

Use the audio link above to hear the full conversation.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

This week, as we look forward to Inauguration Day, our co-host Ari Shapiro is talking to people in North Carolina and Virginia. He's been asking voters there for their feelings about Donald Trump. The next person we're going to hear from did not vote, even though he had a lot riding on the election. His name is Juan de la Rosa Diaz. He's 20 years old. He wears a T-shirt that says I Am Undocumented. Ari met him in the Hispanic Cultural Center at Virginia Tech, where Juan is in his last semester as a political science major.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Juan de la Rosa Diaz came to the U.S. from Mexico with his parents when he was five years old. He has sisters who were born here. They're American citizens. Juan always knew that he was undocumented and that he had to keep it a secret. But he only really understood what it meant when he turned 16, and all of his friends started getting driver's licenses.

JUAN DE LA ROSA DIAZ: And so for all of high school, all of my friends just thought I was a really bad driver, and that's why I didn't have my license. And so when you're undocumented, you get really good at lying - all these little white lies that sort of you use to build a barrier that protects you and your family. It's not only my secret. It's my family's secret.

SHAPIRO: President Obama signed an executive order that meant Juan didn't have to lie anymore. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, meant that he could get a driver's license and permission to work. He went to college with plans to get a Ph.D. and become a university professor. Donald Trump campaigned on undoing all of that.

DIAZ: You know, for me, it's not only what it'll mean for me, but what it will mean for all of the other undocumented students I've come to know. In-state tuition is one of the things that could instantly go away if the DACA program is rescinded. And so what does that mean for all of the other DACA students that are still continuing their education? I'll be graduating, but I still care about the access to education that other DACA students have.

SHAPIRO: Do you think of deportation as a real threat?

DIAZ: Yeah. I think that's probably, you know, the biggest fear. It's always in the back of my mind. And that's particularly scary for individuals who have DACA - who have the deferred action program - because when we apply to a DACA, we have to do things like turn over all of our information - where we live, how long we've been here, what we look like.

SHAPIRO: Tell me about what it was like going to class the day after the election.

DIAZ: The day after the election, I actually didn't go to class at all. I was actually in here all day. I was actually in the Hispanic...

SHAPIRO: Here meaning the Hispanic Cultural Center.

DIAZ: Yeah - the Hispanic Cultural Center all day because it was one of the few places on campus that, like, the day after the election I felt safe. And the second day after the election, I thought, you know, it's been a day. I've had my time to recover. I think I should be fine.

And so I remember getting to my first class. I look up, and projected onto the projector screen was Donald Trump's victory speech. And I just remember, like, trying to hold back the tears, and I just got really emotional. I just walked out, and, like, the professor chased after me. And I just needed more time to process. I thought I was ready, but I just need more time to process because even though I thought it was fine, I knew it was going to get - like I'm getting emotional right now, like, just thinking about seeing - like, being in that moment.

SHAPIRO: It's not just that the man who was elected might change legal policies for people who are undocumented. It's also that during the campaign, Donald Trump said a lot of really terrible things about Mexicans. He referred to Mexican immigrants as murderers and rapists. And that was just the first day of his campaign.

DIAZ: Right. Right. No. I thought about this the night of the election when, you know, I knew Donald Trump had won. And I just remember, like, texting my sisters at that time and just telling them, you know, no matter the outcome of this election, this country is still yours. But I had difficulty telling them that because I almost felt betrayed by this country. I almost felt betrayed that, you know, the country I'd grown enough to call home for the last 16 years would elect somebody that would almost reject everything that, you know, my person is built on.

SHAPIRO: You texted your sisters who are American citizens, and you said this is - this country still belongs to you. Do you feel like this country belongs to you?

DIAZ: I definitely feel like this country belongs to me, and people can disagree with it all they want. I think that I've built such a strong connection to this country. I consider myself Mexican-American. It's not only that I don't consider myself a Mexican national living in the United States. I very much consider myself woven into the fabric of this country because it's taught me everything I know. It's given me so many opportunities.

SHAPIRO: After Friday when Donald Trump is inaugurated president, will you wear your I Am Undocumented T-shirt any less often?

DIAZ: No. I don't think I'll wear it any less often. I think if anything, now is the time more than ever to say, you know, undocumented individuals are not all criminals. Like, I'm a student at Virginia Tech. We have to be able to see undocumented individuals not by their status, but by the contributions that they've been willing to make to this country.

SHAPIRO: Juan, thanks for talking with us.

DIAZ: My pleasure.

MCEVERS: That's Juan de la Rosa Diaz talking to our co-host Ari Shapiro in Blacksburg, Va.

POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio of this story, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was incorrectly referred to as an executive order. It is an executive action. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.