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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

As Deadline Looms, Racine Student Reflects On Being 'DACA-mented'

Rachel Morello
Sixteen-year-old Fernanda Jimenez has been studying in the Racine Unified School District, thanks to her status under DACA.

Fernanda Jimenez is sixteen. She has a bubbly personality and braids in her hair. She's also an undocumented immigrant -- but that's not how she describes herself. 

"People who have DACA call themselves 'DACA-mented!'" Jimenez exclaims. 

DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, is an Obama-era law that provides protection for kids who entered the country illegally as minors. It allows many of them to continue studying in American schools and universities. The program turns five years old this summer. 

But when summer ends in a few weeks, DACA faces another potential milestone. An important deadline is approaching: September 5. That’s the day the Trump administration could be slapped with a lawsuit if it doesn’t take action on DACA.

Officials from ten states are urging the president to end the program – and they’ve threatened legal action if the federal government doesn’t act by Labor Day. Even before the president was inaugurated, many immigrant rights advocates have been wondering what he would do about undocumented immigrants living, working and studying in the U.S. 

READ: Letter to Trump from 10 state Republican attorneys general, threatening suit over DACA

So, as summer draws to a close, young immigrants are once again watching the headlines, wondering what the threat of the lawsuit could mean for their futures - including Fernanda Jimenez. She’s a rising senior at Horlick High School in Racine, and one of a handful of leaders with the group YES, or Youth Empowered in the Struggle - the student arm of Milwaukee-based immigrant rights group, Voces de la Frontera.

Jimenez helped organize a YES rally this past weekend in Janesville, outside of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s church. Immigrant youth joined community members calling on Speaker Ryan to defend DACA on the national scene.

Originally from Mexico City, Jimenez moved to Wisconsin as a sixth grader from Atlanta, Georgia. She says she was pleased to see a diverse group of students in the Racine Unified School District -- although the racial and ethnic mix in some of her higher-level classes was less than what she saw in her school as a whole. 

"Everyone is scared to even get to that date, because we don't know whether they're going to say 'you're safe'."

She didn't used to share her story with classmates or peers but now, she's not shy about doing so. 

"Most of my school knows now that I'm undocumented," Jimenez explains. "Mostly teachers ask me, 'How does it work?' And I tell them...DACA says you're protected from deportation, but it's not guaranteed. It's also a risk."

"It gives me the opportunity to work and go to college, but you're putting yourself out there by saying you're undocumented. This is just a temporary protection."

Her willingness to share her story has Jimenez worried about what could happen, should the federal government end DACA after September 5. 

"Every undocumented person knows what that date is," she says. "Everyone is scared to even get to that date, because we don't know whether they're going to say 'you're safe.' But even if they say we're safe, we don't know what's going to happen next."

"It's terrifying knowing that there are people who actually do want to kick humans out. Who has the say that 'you are illegal' when we're just one human race?"

Should everything go according to her plan, Jimenez wants to go to college -- preferably her number one choice, Barnard College. She says she'd love to study law, and eventually work as an immigration or civil rights lawyer. 

"I want to defend for people's voice[s]. As long as I can get an education."

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