DACA end would be 'betrayal of trust,' suburban participants say

Most weekdays, 23-year-old Alejandro Molina Hoyos drives round-trip from his family's Pingree Grove home to Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

He's pursuing a mechanical engineering degree to fulfill his dream of working for an American company like Caterpillar.

But everything from his student loan to his car loan to his job on campus hinges on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program President Barack Obama created in 2012.

Without DACA, even applying for a student loan would have been impossible for someone brought to the U.S. illegally from Colombia before he was 6 years old.

"That's something I wouldn't have been able to do without (DACA)," Molina Hoyos said. "Not at all."

The White House on Friday said President Donald Trump will announce a decision Tuesday regarding the future of the program and the 800,000 young immigrants who've benefited from it.

Molina Hoyos said he'd felt optimistic about a month ago when he heard Trump say how much he'd learned about the DACA program since he was a candidate. The potential change of direction this week seemed to come out of the blue, he added.

Fox News, citing an unnamed senior administration official, reported Thursday that Trump was planning to end the program, perhaps as early as Friday. But as some Republican lawmakers and House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke against an immediate rollback of DACA, Trump on Friday told reporters, "I think the Dreamers are terrific," using a nickname for DACA participants.

The program long has angered conservatives who call Obama's executive order establishing the program illegal. To be in DACA, participants must have arrived in the U.S. before age 16; be in school or have a high school diploma, GED certificate or honorable discharge from the military; and have no serious criminal offenses. Participants also must have been 30 or younger on June 15, 2012, and have no felony or serious misdemeanor convictions.

Molina Hoyos is among participants from the suburbs who say an end to DACA would not only upturn their own lives but create a loss to the U.S. economy and society they've been working to strengthen.

"These students who are going to be affected by DACA want to be functioning, upstanding members of society," Molina Hoyos said. "We're just as American as everyone else. We're just missing that piece of paper."

"It would be just terrible if it were to be removed," said 27-year-old Carlos Robles, a DACA participant who attended high school in Palatine, became a high school teacher himself and now works for a consulting firm in Chicago.

"It would be a betrayal of trust of all the people who came forward," he added. "All the people who applied for DACA chose the legal path. So what's the defense of that?"

Robles and his 26-year-old brother, Rafael, were in their early teens when their parents took them and their younger sister from Mexico to the U.S., soon settling in Palatine.

"We didn't have a path to be in the system," Carlos Robles said of the siblings' incentive to enroll in DACA. "When one was given to us, we immediately jumped and took the legal path."

DACA allowed all three children to pursue college degrees. The brothers recently bought their mother a house in Palatine and are planning to open an architectural and design consulting firm together that would combine their professional skills.

His brother Rafael says young people raised and educated here don't want to be sent to another country to use their skills competing with the U.S. But the continuation of the jobs they have now is dependent on DACA.

"If DACA went away, I'd be fired from my job," Carlos Robles said.

Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights said it's hard to discern Trump's intentions and whether they'd affect DACA immediately or result in gradual changes. Also unclear is whether an attempt at a congressional replacement would follow Trump's possible revocation of DACA, he said. And it's possible threatening DACA is a bargaining stance for other immigration reforms Trump wants, like a border wall and more funding for guards, Tsao said.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Carlos Robles Courtesy of Carlos Robles
Rafael Robles Courtesy of Rafael Robles
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