White House honors DACA recipients as ‘Champions of Change’

Sarahi Espinoza didn’t give up on her dream of attending college despite being undocumented and facing difficult family circumstances. In 2008, she graduated from high…
White House honors DACA recipients as ‘Champions of Change’

In this June 15, 2012 file photo, Dreamers hold signs saying “Thank You President Obama” at a rally outside the White House in Washington, in support of the president’s announcement that the U.S. government will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to undocumented youth who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Sarahi Espinoza didn’t give up on her dream of attending college despite being undocumented and facing difficult family circumstances.

In 2008, she graduated from high school with honors but wasn’t able to get financial aid to pay for college because of her undocumented status. Her mother, who was falsely advised she could leave to Mexico and come back to the United States as a resident, was not there to see her graduate.

SEE ALSO: Important moments in the Dreamers movement

Unable to get financial aid, Espinoza began working to pay for tuition at a community college.

Sarahi Espinoza didn't give up on her dream to attend college.

Sarahi Espinoza didn’t give up on her dream to attend college. (Facebook/Sarahi.tv)

But when her father in Mexico was diagnosed with cancer, she dropped out to work and help her family pay for his medical bills. Her father passed away in 2011, but she wasn’t able to attend his funeral, fearing she wouldn’t be able to come back to the U.S.

“I felt very betrayed by the country that I call my home,” Espinoza said, describing how she felt about the circumstances she faced as an undocumented immigrant.

But she didn’t give up.

In January 2013, Espinoza was approved for a two-year deportation reprieve and work permit under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that the Obama administration announced two years ago. The federal program made it possible for her to re-enroll in college.

It also allowed her to begin working at Girl Scouts of Northern California, where she teaches environmental science and technology programs to young Latinas. Furthermore, she also created her own website, Sarahi.tv, through which she hopes to inspire other young people to go back to college regardless of the circumstances they face.

DACA recipients honored as ‘Champions of Change’

On Tuesday, Espinoza was one of the 10 DACA recipients who were honored as “Champions of Change” at a White House ceremony on Tuesday. The White House described them as “success stories and role models in their academic and professional spheres.”

“These Champions distinguished themselves through their community involvement and the hard work they put into helping other members of their academic and professional communities succeed,” the White House said in a statement.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Dreamers you should know

Among the DACA recipients honored on Tuesday were also two Dreamers who are members of the Mi Familia Vota.They are Ana Zaragoza, a native of Mexico and a student at Colorado State University who is a canvass lead in Colorado, and Steven Arteaga, who was born in Mexico and is a volunteer coordinator in Texas. They both became involved with Mi Familia Vota to help grow Latino civic participation after applying for DACA.

Here are the 10 DACA recipients honored Tuesday as “Champions of Change.” (Twitter/@MarielenaNILC)

Several of the other DACA recipients honored on Tuesday have created initiatives to advocate for various immigration issues. Among them was Mexican-born Anahi Mendoza, who’s a senior at Harvard University. She founded two organizations — one in high school and another in college — to provide resources for undocumented students and help them apply for college.

Other DACA recipients honored on Tuesday have been involved in service and advocacy to create social change. Dayana Elvira Torres, a native of Columbia, helped achieve in-state tuition for undocumented students in Virginia. She now works to build coalitions amongst a diverse set of stakeholders in the immigrant movement.

Similarly, Philippines native Rhustie Marcelo Valdizno advocates for humane immigration policies in New Jersey by sharing his experiences of being undocumented. And Mexican-born Hector Salamanca Arroyo, a student at Drake University, meets regularly with policy makers to advance immigration reform and the DREAM Act.

During a panel discussion at the White House ceremony on Tuesday, some DACA recipients shared how the federal program opened doors to new opportunities. Kamal Essaheb, who was born in Morocco and is a graduate of Fordham Law School, said DACA allowed him to begin working for the National Immigration Law Center, where he advocates for immigration issues like the passage of the DREAM Act and the implementation of DACA.

For India-born Pratishtha Khanna, DACA has allowed her to begin working as an emergency room medical scribe and pursue medical school. And for Esther Yu Hsi Lee, a native of Taiwan, DACA allowed her to begin working as an immigration reporter for the online publication ThinkProgress in Washington, D.C.

DACA is having a big impact on Dreamers

Of the more than 673,000 requests for DACA that the federal government has received, more than 553,000 have been approved as of March, according to data by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

A study released Monday by the National UnDACAmented Research Project shows DACA has had a big impact on the lives of those who are benefiting from it. The study, based on responses of 2,684 undocumented youth who completed a national survey, found that almost 60 percent of DACA recipients have obtained a new job since being approved for DACA and 45 percent have increased their earnings.

SEE ALSO: New scholarship fund aims to help Dreamers go to college

It also found that 57 percent of DACA recipients surveyed have obtained a driver’s license. Moreover, almost half of  DACA beneficiaries surveyed have opened their first bank account and one-third have obtained their first credit card.

The study was conducted by Harvard University researchers Roberto Gonzales and Angie M. Bautista-Chavez.

On Tuesday, the DACA recipients honored as “Champions of Change” offered recommendations on how to improve the DACA program. They recommended reducing the $465 application fee, doing more to inform educators about the DACA program and hosting more DACA workshops to help undocumented youth apply for the federal program.

They also argued that the DACA program is not enough, because it only benefits undocumented youth who are between the ages of 15 and 30. They described it as a “bandage over a gaping wound” and called for the passage of immigration reform.

“What about our parents? What about our siblings, our uncles, our friends who are a lot older?” said Hector Salamanca Arroyo, one of the DACA recipients honored on Tuesday. “I don’t believe it’s fair that we’re the only ones who can benefit from this program.”

SEE ALSO: DACA is improving the financial well-being of Dreamers