From the time she arrived in the United States at the age of 12, to when she was a senior in high school, Daniela Murguia would not tell people that she was born in Mexico.
This is because she is undocumented and her parents were not sure what would happen to their family if they revealed their status.
But after attending a leadership camp for Latino students and participating in other similar programs, Murguia, who will enter her fourth year at the University of Washington Bothell later this month, felt more empowered to speak about her background, “coming out” as undocumented in her final year of high school.
“That was definitely hard for my parents,” Murguia said. “They weren’t happy about it at all.”
HUMANIZING THE ISSUE
Since then, she has become more vocal in discussing the American immigration system. Murguia is even a part of the Washington Dream Coalition, which is holding a forum on Monday at Cleveland High School in Seattle for allies and educators to discuss how they can support undocumented students.
The most recent instance in which Murguia used her voice to raise awareness of the issues undocumented immigrants face was on Labor Day at a Dreamer Dinner with fellow local undocumented immigrants and U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-01) in Seattle.
The dinner was part of a campaign by America’s Voice, an organization whose mission is to “harness the power of American voices and American values to enact policy change that guarantees full labor, civil and political rights for immigrants and their families,” according to its website.
Juan Escalante, digital campaign manager for the organization, said the project started to highlight and re-inject the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children — into the mainstream.
He said immigration policy can be very abstract and the dinners, which have been held throughout the country all summer, are a way to break things down and give elected officials an opportunity to engage with Dreamers and vice versa. Escalante said sharing a meal and stories helps humanize things.
“We want to break down some of the complexities surrounding those (immigration) issues,” he said.
Murguia said the fact that there was even a dinner for her to attend gave her hope that she would be heard and supported by the congresswoman, adding that she wanted to use her voice to uplift other undocumented voices.
“We are here and that we demand to be heard,” Murguia said about what the message she wanted to get across to Jayapal.
Murguia said she felt that was what happened at the dinner as Jayapal listened to them and promised to fight for them.
At the dinner, she said there was a mix of current college students like her, individuals who have graduated college and have entered the workforce and one high school student. Among the diners, there were two people who are not eligible for DACA — one of whom was Murguia.
She said she does not qualify for DACA because she arrived in the country in 2008 and in order to qualify, DACA applicants must have arrived before 2007.
THE END OF DACA?
On Sept. 5, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the DACA program will end, but gave Congress a six-month window to enact immigration changes, including passing Obama-era legislation that would provide protections similar to DACA.
Escalante said this development has shifted the conversation and the Dreamer Dinners are needed to emphasize to lawmakers that the deadline is not in the distant future — six months is just around the corner.
In response to Sessions’ announcement, the King County Council unanimously endorsed a motion calling on Congress to defend the program.
“These 800,000 or so folks often represent the best of America,” county council member Rod Dembowski said of DACA residents.
The motion to support the program, as well as urging Congress to act to protect immigrants, was unanimously approved by the nine-member county council with nearly every member expressing concern or anger over the administration’s decision.
Council member Claudia Balducci said children who are part of DACA have oftentimes grown up just as American as their peers, they just lack a piece of paper.
“It’s frankly enraging,” she said. “I’m mad about this today.”
County Executive Dow Constantine also released a statement the same morning of Sessions’ announcement, condemning the president’s decision.
“This president is intentionally tearing families and communities apart across the United States, threatening innocent people who were brought to America as children,” he said in the release. “Rather than seeking to unite the country, he is targeting children and young people.
Murguia said she does not know if President Donald Trump’s call to end DACA was more about power dynamics and she is still not afraid. She said the community is way stronger than he thinks and he will not know what is coming when they will fight back.
And while protecting those who are under DACA is important and something she will fight for, Murguia said there are people left out of the program.
“We have to go beyond (DACA),” she said about the immigration policy, noting that there are there are more than just young people who are undocumented.
Murguia hopes others will fight to support her and others like her who do not qualify for the program.
In addition, she said they have to go beyond the Dreamer narrative and how young adults are entering the work force.
“We are way more than what we contribute to the economy,” Murguia said. “We’re human beings.”
Reporter Aaron Kunkler contributed to this article.