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For Columbus' DACA Students, This Election Could Mean The World

Esther Honig
Daniella Vieira is one of many Ohio State students living in Columbus under DACA status.

The results of Tuesday's presidential election could have a huge effect on hundreds of thousands of young immigrants living in the U.S. under a temporary status known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. WOSU spoke with four DACA students who have to watch this election from the sidelines.

On a Sunday morning, one week before election day, 24-year-old Maria Sanchez tells her story before a group of voters outside the Franklin County Board of Elections.

“I was brought here to Columbus, Ohio ten years ago,” Sanchez says. “So Columbus is technically my home.”

Sanchez, who was born in Mexico, is one of 13,000 young people in Ohio who qualify for DACA status. Because she was brought to the U.S. by her parents before the age of 16, she can get temporary permission to work and reside in the U.S.

Created by President Barack Obama in 2012 through executive order, DACA today has over half a million young people enrolled.

As Sanchez knows, DACA does not grant all the benefits of actual citizenship.

Credit Esther Honig / WOSU
Maria Sanchez, a student at OSU, stands at the oval. This election, DACA students like Sanchez have a lot at stake.

Talking with voters, Sanchez says, is the only way she can hope to have an influence in this election.

“I know I can’t vote, but collectively because they can vote, that’s one way they can give a voice to the people who do not have that opportunity." 

During such a divisive election, with U.S. immigration policy at the forefront, it’s DACA students like Sanchez who have the most at stake. Donald Trump has promised to end DACA, while Hillary Clinton wants to expand it.

Just off the Ohio State campus, 27-year-old Zun Lin lives in a small apartment above a church where he volunteers.

A recent graduate of OSU, Lin came to the U.S. from China when he was 11 when his parents sent him here for a better education and opportunities.

He hasn’t seen them since.

“They try for the last 15 years to obtain legal visa to come to the states,” Lin says. “It never happened.”

Credit Esther Honig / WOSU
Zun Lin is a recent graduate from OSU. Lin has not seen his parents since he came to the U.S. 15 years ago.


This election, Lin's heard a lot of rhetoric against illegal immigration—telling people in similar situations to "get back in line."

“But you don't understand how terrible our immigration system is,” Lin says. “That line can be as long as 25 to 30 years. That's a third of your life.”

On the weekends, Lin volunteers to encourage voter turnout, and he says he’s even appealed to some of his friends who’ve considered sitting this election out:

“One of my close friends, he was like, 'I don't really like any of those candidates. I don't like Donald Trump. I don't trust Hillary either. I may not vote.' And I'm like, 'Come on man, I work so hard.'”

Like Maria Sanchez, immigration reform is a priority for Lin. That's why he supports Hillary Clinton, who has promised to create a path to citizenship within her first 100 days in office.

But Lin says he’s been disillusioned with political promises.

“It's like people are more selfish at serving themselves than serving the people that elected them,” Lin says.

Lin gives the example of President Obama's 2008 campaign. Comprehensive immigration reform was integral to his plans for the White House, but in the last eight years his efforts have been thwarted by a GOP-held House.

And it was the opposite in 2007, when President George W. Bush couldn’t push an immigration bill through the Democratically-controlled Congress.

Out of Time

Across the OSU campus, Daniella Vieira sits on the steps of Mason Hall. Vieira, a senior at the Fisher School of Business, says that like Lin, she’s not entirely optimistic a new president will resolve the issues faced by DACA students.

“We've been planning our lives around politicians,” Vieira says. “We're always like, ‘Maybe I give up.' But then it's like, 'Well, Hillary's about to be President, so just wait the four years.' And then you're like, 'Well they need a second term.'"

At 11, Vieira came to the U.S. from Brazil with her family. They’d hoped her older sister, who is a U.S. citizen, could sponsor Vieira for a green card.

They didn't realize they'd run out of time.

“What we didn't know is that once I turned 18, that's when I first acquired 'unlawful presence,'” Vieira says.

Credit Esther Honig / WOSU
Daniella Vieira, originally from Brazil, is a finance major at the OSU business school.

Now Vieira has DACA status, waiting for what could be several years before Immigration Services will even review her petition for a green card.

This election, Vieira volunteered with the Clinton campaign and attended local rallies. And she wonders if the first woman president is elected, can she really claim that she was a part of history if she couldn't vote?

“It's like really being excluded,” Vieira says. “It's like being in the playground but you can't play.”

Mohamed, who’s asked that WOSU not include his last name due to a pending immigration case, is also a student at OSU. He currently has DACA status as well.

Mohamed’s family is from Somalia, and while his father was granted asylum in the U.S. many years ago, Mohamed was not as fortunate.

Credit Esther Honig / WOSU
Mohamed, whose immigration case is ongoing, says this election he feels morally absolved.

“When you apply for asylum in this country, you have exactly two years to get your family on that lifeboat with you, and we missed that deadline by six days,” he says.

Mohamed, a political science major, says he feels morally absolved from this election.

“Every election, my deportation, existence and exclusion is no longer kitchen table talk," Mohamed says. "It becomes public discourse."

In each election, he says, the topic of immigration is treated as a political pawn—by both sides. 

“If immigration reform was passed tomorrow, what would this election be about?" Mohamed asks. "What would the next election be about?”