Community feature: Ohio 'Dreamer' hopes to graduate, give back

Erica Thompson
Javier Del Valle

On Sept. 5, President Trump moved to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which shelters young, undocumented immigrants from deportation. With protections set to end in six months, Trump, at separate times, called on Congress to pass a replacement and to “legalize DACA.” Currently, the President is in talks with Democratic leaders about supporting the “DREAM Act,” which would grant a conditional green card to DACA recipients. (The act would be paired with plans for increased border security.)

Trump's original announcement drew the ire of both Democrats and Republicans, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

“They ought to have permanent resident status,” Gov. Kasich said of the DACA recipients, aka “Dreamers,” on “CBS This Morning.” “If the Dreamers want to go somewhere and live, come to Ohio. We want all the immigrants to come to Ohio because we know how much they contribute to America.”

While 20-year-old DACA recipient Javier Del Valle appreciated the governor's statement, he still had concerns about the future.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, that's cool, but what about school?'” said Del Valle, who is taking classes at Columbus State during a semester off from Ohio State, where he hopes to graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering. “Most of the Dreamers want to go to school. … Once our DACA expires we're not allowed to go back to school here.”

In response to Trump's DACA decision, OSU president Michael Drake immediately reached out to Rep. Joyce Beatty. “I … urge you and your colleagues to use this opportunity to find a bipartisan solution that will, at a minimum, codify the existing DACA policy into law,” he wrote.

Eligibility for college is just one of the advantages of the DACA policy, which was established by President Obama in 2012 and benefits approximately 800,000 individuals who arrived to the U.S. illegally as minors. Recipients are granted a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit.

“It gives you a taste of what citizenship is,” Del Valle said. “You … have a little bit more of a safe feeling [and] a little bit more reassurance.”

“When I got my driver's license, I felt so confident because … if I get pulled over, I can be like, ‘Boom, look what I got. Just give me a ticket and I'll go,'” he continued. “It was like a huge boost of self-confidence.”

Security was more elusive for Del Valle during his childhood in Mexico City.

“You're running away from organized crime,” Del Valle explained. “You want to be safe, you want your family to be safe [and] you want to know that there's a tomorrow.”

As a result, when Del Valle was six years old, his parents took him and his sister to the U.S., and settled in Dublin, Ohio, in search of a better future.

“It was really hard, especially for my parents because they didn't know the language,” Del Valle said. But today, the family owns a business, two houses and three cars. And Del Valle's parents encouraged him to pursue education beyond high school.

“[For] a lot of Latino families, sometimes the mentality might be after high school, you're done,” Del Valle said. “My mom always tried to change that for me.”

Along with DACA, Del Valle credits an Ohio State mentorship program, Latinx Space for Enrichment and Research (LASER), with preparing him for college while he was in high school. Through LASER, Del Valle met regularly with college students for help with academics and advice regarding higher education or life in general.

“He was a great kid,” said Mitch Anderskow, one of Del Valle's mentors. “[He] definitely had a passion to try to learn and challenge himself because from his junior year to his senior year, he started taking harder classes.”

“[Javier]'s a dreamer like all of our young Latinx students,” said LASER founder and OSU professor Frederick Luis Aldama, who also explained how challenging it can be for immigrant students to excel in school while living in constant fear of deportation. “Imagine what kind of effort and hard work and even imagination is required to keep yourself going with the idea of getting a degree. … [Javier]'s close to finishing [school] and that's remarkable.”

After graduation, Del Valle, who is passionate about cars, said he'd like to help the Latino community through working in the automotive industry.

“A lot of Latino families don't have transportation; some of them may not be able to afford a car,” he said. “So I've been thinking about … [reducing costs] for Latino families that have a hard time coming to the country.”

And he rejects the arguments made by officials like Attorney General Jeff Session, who stated that DACA has “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.”

“We're not really taking their jobs,” Del Valle said. “We're just taking jobs they don't want to do.”

“I'm not sure why people single us out,” he continued. “We're really no different from them. I really would like to see the Latino community move forward and most students go to school [and] have a broader perspective on life.”