BLACKSBURG — Arturo Roman has a Spanish saying he likes to use to describe himself.
“Ni de aquí, ni de allá.” It means from neither here nor there.
But, the Virginia Tech student who was born in Mexico definitely holds more memories from his boyhood home of Reston, Va., the place he’s lived since the age of 2 until last year when the now-sophomore moved to Blacksburg to enroll as a student majoring in biochemistry at Virginia Tech.
To him, Tuesday’s announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that President Donald Trump’s administration plans to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) over the next six months was nerve-racking.
After all, it opens him up to being deported in two years to a country he hasn’t seen since he was an infant.
“I don’t have anything in Mexico. There’s nothing there for me,” Roman said. “The closest I’ve been is Texas.”
Roman is one of 800,000 mostly young people enrolled in DACA nationwide.
The policy allowed them to live, work and go to school in the United States in two-year increments. They must reapply after each stint. That process will apparently be closed as the president attempts to leverage action from Congress.
The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank dedicated to the movement of people worldwide, estimates in 2016 there are 40,000 people eligible for DACA protection in Virginia and 1.9 million nationally. The State Council for Higher Education of Virginia estimates about 1,300 DACA beneficiaries were enrolled in public colleges in Virginia last year.
Roman said he doesn’t follow the news normally. Though, he said he’s been “forced to lately,” he said. That’s mostly because of the rhetoric of the president, he said.
He prefers to work for the greater good. During high school he helped organize blood drives. Now, he does grunt work in a biochemistry laboratory on campus, aspiring to do more. He hopes someday he can help create new medicines, he said. That desire to serve and Tech’s motto Ut Prosim, which means “That I may serve,” were a natural fit, he said.
“I’m not some boogeyman trying to take your jobs,” Roman said. “We’re just normal people trying to make it out here in this great country.”
Virginia Tech added itself to the chorus of higher education institutions nationwide condemning the move to end DACA protections.
Trump’s decision to end the program came under fire Wednesday from a group of 16 state and District of Columbia attorneys general from around the country, including Virginia’s Mark Herring. The group sued Trump in federal court, alleging violations of the Fifth Amendment rights of DACA beneficiaries, among other allegations. They seek injunctions preventing DACA from being rescinded and preventing government officials from using DACA application information to facilitate deportation.
The Tech Division for Student Affairs and Office for Inclusion and Diversity released a statement calling on Congress to continue the program that has more than 800,000 enrollees nationwide. The statement, signed by Vice President for Student Affairs Patty Perillo and Menah Pratt-Clarke, Vice President for Strategic Affairs and Vice Provost for Inclusion and Diversity, also touted the value DACA beneficiaries bring to the Tech community.
The statement also said the university will keep dreamers, as DACA beneficiaries are commonly called, abreast of changes in the program and help answer any questions they might have.
“The promise of a Virginia Tech education is an opportunity that is — and should continue to be — for everyone,” the statement said. “It is incumbent on all of us to create the environments in which students can succeed and thrive. Together, we create Hokies who will launch from this university and change the world.”
Tech President Timothy Sands tweeted out the statement and added “The VT #DREAMers I’ve met exhibit the character, leadership & commitment to #UtProsim to which all #Hokies aspire.”
According to an estimate from the student group Tech Dreamers last year, there are about 30 undocumented students at Tech.
The statements from Tech were reassuring, said Juan de la Rosa, a Tech graduate who works at the university and is chair of the Virginia Tech Hispanic/Latino Faculty and Staff Caucus. He said he’s found his passion at the university and hopes to continue working in higher education in the future.
That passion has come from working with DACA beneficiaries like himself.
“DACA students are some of the best representatives of this university’s motto: Ut Prosim,” de la Rosa said.
Tech and the Virginia Tech police department have put on the university’s immigration resources website that local law enforcement will cooperate with national government agencies enforcing the executive order, however Tech Police don’t “have a policy or practice of requesting the immigration status of individuals it encounters and absent a change in the law compelling it to do so will not engage in such practices,” according to Tech’s website.
Roman is hopeful that the reassuring statements can lead to action from Virginia Tech.
He and other undocumented Tech students as part of the undocumented student group Tech Dreamers have a planned meeting with Sands on Thursday. A meeting where he hopes the university will directly tell the students they will be helped by their university. But more than that, Roman said, he hopes they’ll just be affirmed as part of the Tech community.
“I hope he’ll accept us as Hokies,” Roman said.