New UCCS graduate Nayda Benitez says she’s both optimistic and nervous following graduation, but hers aren’t the typical post grad jitters.
Benitez is a "dreamer," one of the undocumented children brought to the U.S. and protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. President Trump ordered an end to the program last September, putting it in the hands of Congress to find a more permanent fix.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions argued the program circumvented immigration laws, and was an unconstitutional executive overreach from the Obama administration.
Congress has still not passed a bill, while federal courts are sorting through legal challenges from both sides of the debate. For students like Benitez, their long-term future in the United States remains uncertain.
"Right now the program is in limbo. We don’t know what will happen to it. Many students have DACA (status) that are graduating, and we don’t know if we’ll be able to use our degrees because we won’t have work permits if the program is not renewed."
In 2012, Former President Obama established the DACA program, which allowed illegal immigrants to stay in the United States for a two year period as long as they kept clean records. Those people could then renew their status every two years.
Benitez’s parents immigrated to the country illegally from Mexico when she was 7 years old. It’s a program that Benitez credits with giving her the chance to walk across the stage Friday.
"In Mexico there’s not a lot of educational or economic opportunity. Most people don’t make it to high school or college. Most people start working at a young age," Benitez said. "That’s one of the primary reasons we moved here. To pursue an education."
News 5 talked with Benitez in September, when Democratic lawmakers said they reached a bipartisan deal with President Trump to provide permanent resident status to dreamers in the U.S. Months later, efforts to pass a bipartisan bill have stalled, but the program is active due to federal court rulings preserving the program, for now.
As the debate over DACA continues, Benitez said she’s looking forward to the future. She graduated with a degree in sociology Friday along with an award for student achievement. She said she plans to move to California to work with young immigrants and then attend law school.
For Friday, it was a proud moment for her and her family.
"It’s incredible and I’m just really happy to be here."