SUNY Old Westbury faculty, administration, and students who have been granted temporary relief from deportation by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) stood up for justice by sharing their stories at the college on Monday.
Old Westbury President Dr. Calvin Butts III declared that the school stands with Dreamers. He said that DACA students help create a campus community that “understands differences, inspires learning, and fosters growth.”
“Dreamers, keep coming. Dreamers, know you have a place at Old Westbury,” Butts said.
Looking back, he related to the Dreamers, explaining that he too did not choose to come here of his own accord as a child. But, being here now, he and the Dreamers now participate in the “great experiment” of democracy to build the nation together.
“I don’t want anyone to give me anything. Just open the door, I’ll get it myself,” Butts said.
Sharing their stories, the DACA students exemplified the attitude of self-reliance and determination.
Priscilla Ortega, a sophomore at Old Westbury, said she crossed the Rio Grande by herself at 7 years old to be reunited with her family after five years.
Today, she works three jobs to be able to afford her classes, concentrating on politics, economics, and law.
“Without an education, my hopes and dreams aren’t there,” Ortega said. “My career goal is to be able to represent people like myself.”
Maryann Sinclair Slutsky, executive director of Long Island Wins, explained that Long Island is home to about 10,000 DACA recipients who make up our neighbors, co-workers, classmates, and family members.
“Losing these contributing members of our community will have profound consequences economically, by separating families and disrupting our communities,” Slutsky said. “By ending DACA, Trump is not only punishing DACA recipients, but also our entire community.”
Nelson Melgar, a DACA recipient and aide for Assemblyman Charles Lavine, said that when DACA was ended, he rushed to Trump Tower to protest the reprehensible decision. Seeing a saddened longtime friend and fellow protestor, Melgar urged him and other Dreamers to keep fighting.
“We need to be strong in this moment. That is what made you. It wasn’t fear,” Melgar said. “When you are hit, you have to get back up.”
Melgar said that it took him eight years to graduate from his alma mater, Hunter College. Ineligible for financial aid, DACA students must pay for their classes out of pocket. Melgar said he worked up to 20 hours a day at one point to be able to afford school.
“DACA or no DACA, I will move on. I will persevere. And, I will do what has to be done, because that’s my job,” Melgar said.
Isma Chaudhry, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island and co-chair of Long Island Wins, expressed solidarity with DACA students, saying that we each carry a heavy load, but that we all must share the burden and stay “strong enough so that each one of us can lean on each other.”
“Don’t just let this go. Make sure that you have a voice. Make sure that you have a mentor who can direct that voice,” Chaudhry said.
She cast away the term of “strangers” to refer to immigrants, instead rightfully acknowledging them as “blessings in the community.”
Old Westbury junior Josselin Paz, mustered the courage to publicly speak as a DACA recipient.
“I am undocumented. This is still my campus, this is still my town, and this is still my country,” Paz said.
Majoring in industry labor relations, Paz is a part of the honors college and serves as a secretary of the college’s UN Club, all while maintaining a 3.9 GPA.
However, she emphasized that no matter the qualifications or accolades on paper, “we are all still valid. We are all still human beings.”
“Leaving El Salvador not only gave me the opportunity for a better life and education, it meant a chance for my family to survive,” she said. “Immigrants like myself do not take educational opportunities for granted. We do not take anything for granted.”
On behalf of the Old Westbury faculty, Dr. Laura Anker, distinguished service professor, said that last spring, the faculty, with the support of the administration and Dr. Butts, unanimously passed a sanctuary resolution to protect DACA students in every way possible.
“Our DACA students represent the very best of Old Westbury. They are courageous, resilient, high achieving, empathetic, creative, analytic, and deeply committed to service, family, and community,” Anker said. “We stand with Dreamers and deplore President Trump’s heartless, immoral, racist, and inhumane act in revoking DACA.”