RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Immigrant students and their supporters rally at VCU in hopes of saving DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).
Thursday is the deadline to renew for the program that protects immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children. DACA allows them to legally pursue work, education and get a driver's license.
President Trump called for the end of DACA in March 2018, and this is the last time participants can renew their membership.
Like most VCU students, their ultimate goal is a career.
"I want to do software programming," says Haziel Andrade.
"My goal is to be a costume designer," says Jessica Moreno Caycho.
Both women, however, are DACA participants. They came to the U.S. illegally as children - Moreno Caycho from Peru when she was eight years old and Andrade from Bolivia when she was three years old.
For now, DACA protects them from the threat of deportation, but the program is set to end in March 2018. The final renewal deadline is Thursday, so they're rallying on campus and hoping school leaders and lawmakers will hear their message.
"See us as human beings," says Moreno Caycho. "That have a right to migrate and have a right to live peacefully without fear of deportation, fear of going back to a land that they don't remember. That it's not safe for them."
"It wasn't my choice to come here," says Andrade. "It was my parent's choice. How can a 3-year-old make a decision for themselves?"
There are about 800,000 DACA recipients nationwide, including 12,0000 in Virginia, according to the VA Legal Aide Justice Center.
When the program ends, "There's no path to citizenship," says Phillip Storey, immigrant advocacy program at Legal Aide Justice Center. "The next step: the ball is in Congress' court, and there has been discussion of passing what's known as the Dream Act."
The act would put undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children on a path to permanent residency - as long as certain conditions are met.
"It passed the Senate several years ago but never made it past there," says Storey. "So there is renewed interest in passing that."
For now, the future is uncertain, but these students say there is no turning back.
"We've got to be unafraid in order to make a change and to obtain permanent protection," says Moreno Caycho.
The Legal Aide Justice Center encourages all DACA participants to reach out to an immigration lawyer as this process continues. It's estimated by March, thousands of people will start to lose their status each month.
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