Laws and Policy: An Immigration Series


Megan Aguilar


El Centro de la Raza hosts 3rd installation of immigration series Thursday afternoon in Mesa Vista Hall. For more information about the center visit room 1153. Photo by Megan Aguilar.

In an intimate meeting Thursday afternoon, members of El Centro de la Raza, a Latino advocacy group on UNM campus, discussed what some said is an the invasive application process immigration policies like DACA require, and the criminalization of immigrants coming into the United States.

DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a policy initiated by the Obama administration in 2012.

Under its guidelines, anyone under the age of 31 years old as of June 15, 2012, would be eligible for a two-year renewal system that would allow them to stay in the country without a visa.

“DACA doesn’t mean you won’t get deported,” said Alejandro Mendiaz-Rivera, a student program specialist at El Centro and DACA recipient.

According to Mendiaz-Rivera, out of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States about 730,000 undocumented immigrants are recipients of DACA.


Alejandro Mendiaz-Rivera (left) and Cindy Nava (right) lead discussion on the avenues undocumented immigrants can take to gain citizenship. Thursday, March 30th. Photo by Megan Aguilar

DACA is not easy to apply for, says Mendiaz-Rivera.

“You have to send them basically the kitchen sink,” Mendiaz-Rivera said.

Applicants must enter their information, and their parent’s information. Applicants must also provide proof that they were in the country before their 16th birthday, that they have not committed any felonies, and that they are in school or have received a high school diploma or certificate of completion.

Cindy Nava, a research fellow at the center for education on UNM campus who also is a DACA recipient, also talks about the fear she faced when filling out her initial application.

Nava was hesitant about listing her parent’s information.

“Fear has always lived within our lives, and the places we go,” Nava said.

Since being approved for DACA, Nava has appeared on FOX news discussing immigration, and continues to worry about what public appearances might mean for her family.

“What if they Google me and try to find where I live… and what about my parents,” Nava said.

Despite her fears, Nava says it’s important to continue to be visible to the public, to show the country that undocumented immigrants are human, too.

While DACA does defer action for two years, it does not provide a pathway to citizenship.

“Extreme vetting,” according to Mendiaz-Rivera, has made the path to citizenship arduous for undocumented immigrants, even those with DACA status.

“You never know when you’re going to get approved for DACA… one document might need more scrutiny,” Mendiaz-Rivera said.

During one renewal year, Mendiaz-Rivera almost faced leave without pay from work, after the government notified his employer that his permit was about to expire.

Not only could extreme vetting of renewal forms affect the jobs of those working in the United States it also affects the way undocumented immigrants with DACA travel.

Advance parole allows immigrants without visas or legal permanent residence to travel abroad and reenter the United States.

Nava recalls coming back from Mexico after visiting her sick grandfather when she first received DACA status in 2012, and sitting in a room for four hours before finally being let go.

Nava said during that time, she saw women and families being hauled in in handcuffs and being treated horribly by enforcement officers.

Having DACA status doesn’t assure reentrance, Nava said.

“It’s up to the officer, if they don’t like the way you look or the way you talk, they might not let you back in,” Nava said.

Rosa Isela Cervantes, director of El Centro de la Raza,, says language surrounding policies about immigration are vital.

“When you think of parole, what do you think of… you’re getting an out to come back in, because you’re a prisoner in this country (U.S.) in some ways,” Cervantes said.

In an article by Wired, a study conducted by social psychologists from Canada concluded that negative portrayals of immigrants in the media have a dehumanizing effect.

According to the Wired article, in one experiment, two groups were given a review to read, at the bottom was a cartoon. For group one, the cartoon showed an immigrant entering Canada. Group two got the same cartoon, but negative words were written on the suitcase being carried by the immigrant. While group one didn’t notice the cartoon, group two walked away with negative assumptions about immigration.

Thursday’s meeting, “Laws and Policy” was the third installation of the immigration series being hosted by El Centro de la Raza. The fourth installment, “Resources and Advocacy” will take place on April 20th, at Mesa Vista Hall, room 1153.


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