Why These Young Women Are Using Their Graduation Caps To Send A Powerful Message

For many Dreamers graduating in 2018, it’s an uncertain time. But that isn’t stopping them from declaring their #Undocugrad status loud and proud on Twitter and Instagram — in fact, it’s more important now than ever.

The Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which allowed undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to work and study in the country without fear of getting deported, is in limbo. The Trump administration has tried to eliminate it, and although some judges and politicians have stepped in to try to save DACA, Congress still hasn’t acted to implement a long-term solution.

To celebrate their achievements despite the setbacks, some graduates are not just donning a mortarboard and gown; they’re writing statements on their caps like, “Dreams are bigger than your borders ” and decorating them in seriously creative ways.

“Thousands of undocumented young adults are graduating across the country, but because of Congress inaction, we are left in a limbo of not knowing if or for how long we will be able to pursue the careers that we worked so hard to study for and graduate,” Yatziri Tovar, spokesperson for Make the Road New York, an organization that advocates for immigrant rights, told Refinery29.

Tovar, herself a DACA recipient, said Dreamers face extra challenges at college, such as not qualifying for federal financial aid and certain grants and loans. They only qualify for in-state tuition in a few states. According to a recent survey, 45% of DACA recipients are currently in school, and among them, 72% are working on a bachelor’s degree or higher. Of those who are in school, 94% said they pursued educational opportunities they otherwise couldn’t have because of DACA.

Ahead, Dreamers tell us the stories behind their decked-out hats.

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Skarley Gonzalez, 21

Graduated from: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

I decided to decorate my cap because… “Without my parents, I wouldn’t have been able to graduate, let alone make it to college. They sacrificed their dreams in order for me to live mine, and I will forever be grateful. They supported me through this long journey and made sure I never gave up. The degree might have my name on it, but we earned it together, and I wanted everyone to know that.”

I am proud to be a Dreamer because… “Despite the many hurdles that are thrown at me on a daily basis, I am able to succeed and create a better society for my family and I. I used to be afraid to admit that I was a Dreamer because I was ashamed of a decision that was made for me when I was 2 years old. However, these last couple of years I’ve been able to gain confidence through other Dreamers.”

It’s important to talk about DACA because… “People have many misconceptions about the program and us Dreamers. We are not bad people. All we want is to live without fear and contribute to the country we love and have grown up in.”

My future plans are… “I want to attend law school to focus on immigration law. However, with the current unstable state of DACA, my future is put on hold and is in the hands of the government.”

Erika Molina Ramirez, 23

Graduated from: Northeastern Illinois University

I decided to decorate my cap because… “I wanted to defy the negativity connected to being an immigrant. Some people think my people steal jobs, but we work harder than anyone, against the odds, to achieve our goals and aspirations.”

I am proud to be a Dreamer because… “I am a ‘Dreamer,’ although many don’t like that term due to it eclipsing the efforts of those that don’t fall under the image of the ‘ideal’ immigrant. To those who are not interested in ‘protecting’ my Dream status, I say, ‘Oh well.’ Dreamers, undocumented, allies, we’re all going to continue to fight for the right to stay, and not everyone is going to agree with that. I think that DACA being in limbo right now is terrifying. Should my status get taken away, I’m not sure what I would do. I have a diploma now, but it’s worthless if I can’t work to support myself and help my family. But I know that I must continue to build myself up, no matter what.

“I’m proud to be the daughter of undocumented immigrants, who left everything behind to give me a better life. I’m proud of my resilience, to go against everyone who told me people like me aren’t supposed to succeed.”

It’s important to talk about DACA because… “Future generations will be able to follow their dreams without the hurdles placed against them. My parents had it hard, my journey is easy compared to theirs, and I want to make it easier for my children and others who want to achieve their goals.”

My future plans are… “I recently got a job working at an immigrant-serving nonprofit in my community. I want to help immigrants, just as people have helped me. I’m fortunate enough to have an education and know the language. Others aren’t as fortunate, and it is my goal to aid them to achieve their goals. Later in life, I would like to become an attorney and help immigrants navigate the legal system.”

Sandra Villa-Lomeli, 22

Graduated from: College of Central Florida

I decided to decorate my cap because… “Without my parents, I would not have been able to achieve this degree. They were my biggest supporters throughout this college journey.”

I am proud to be a Dreamer because… “We are the definition of the American Dream. Our parents left everything behind and migrated to an unknown land just so we could have a future.”

It’s important to talk about DACA because… “This is the country we know, where we have lived our entire lives, and where we plan to grow old. Honestly, I don’t know what to think about the uncertainty of DACA anymore. If I think about it too much, it just gives me anxiety. All I can really say is that it affects our mental health because the uncertainty of our future really scares us.”

My future plans are… “I graduated from a two-year college with an A.A. in human services. I plan on taking a break to be able to save up money for tuition to be able to transfer to the University of Central Florida, where I would like to major in social work with a minor in photojournalism.”

See more #Undocugrad hats ahead.

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