LINCOLN — Annia Morin-Chavez came to South Sioux City from Mexico before she hit kindergarten.
Memories of her life growing up on the southern banks of the Rio Grande River in Reynosa, opposite Hidalgo, Texas, are spotty, filled in part through the dreams expressed by her parents in their drive to provide a better life for her and her siblings.
There was a chance for a better education in the U.S., and to leave behind the growing danger presented by the drug cartels, her mother often said.
As a so-called Dreamer, enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created by the Obama administration in 2012, Morin-Chavez was pursuing the life her parents dreamed of creating.
Enrolled as a sophomore accounting major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Morin-Chavez said she’s diligently working toward a lifelong, albeit unusual goal: “I want to be able to do my own taxes.”
But Tuesday, the future for Morin-Chavez and more than 3,300 other undocumented Nebraska youth protected from deportation and afforded a chance to complete an education and obtain employment under the DACA program, became more complicated.
The Trump administration announced it would be ending the DACA program, calling it unconstitutional and a circumvention of immigration law, and ordered the Department of Homeland Security to cease accepting any new applications.
Current enrollees whose permits expire by March 5, 2018, can apply for renewal by Oct. 5, while others have longer to see if Congress can come up with a solution that would keep protections for DACA recipients in place.
Morin-Chavez said the idea DACA could be scrapped has been at the forefront of her mind since Trump indicated his intention to do so nearly two years ago.
“Watching the campaign, I really wasn’t surprised at all,” Morin-Chavez said of Tuesday’s decision.
Enrolling in the Obama-era program in 2012 was something of a gamble for Morin-Chavez’s family.
Her older sister was born in Texas and is a U.S. citizen, while her parents were able to become naturalized citizens as well, leaving Morin-Chavez and her older brother, also born in Mexico, both undocumented.
Since applying for protections under DACA at age 14, Morin-Chavez has been considered “lawfully present” in the U.S. and protected from deportation, but was not granted permanent residency or a path to permanent citizenship.
It’s a status she said became more and more evident as she grew up in South Sioux City, where life became as much about maintaining a blemish-free record as it did about being a regular teenager.
“I wasn’t able to be like everyone else,” Morin-Chavez said. As her American-born friends were getting their driver’s licenses, she was bumming rides from family members, her mother determined she avoid any situations that could mean legal trouble.
Slowly, however, changes at both the federal level, with the creation of DACA, as well as incremental progress at the state level, made Morin-Chavez feel more at home.
An override of a Gov. Dave Heineman veto in 2006 ultimately allowed Morin-Chavez to attend UNL by paying in-state tuition rates as a high school graduate, free to earn the accounting degree she covets.
Other programs crafted by state lawmakers, including a 2015 bill allowing DACA youth to apply for driver’s licenses, and a 2016 bill allowing them to seek professional and occupational licenses, opened up additional opportunities.
Both of those bills required state senators to override a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts.
In the shadow of the same statehouse where those bills were passed, Morin-Chavez and other DACA recipients and their allies attended a noontime rally Tuesday attended by about 300 people in support of the program.
Joseline Reyna, who came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 9, learned English and was granted a scholarship to UNL as an eighth-grader in Grand Island, said she was pleased to see the state stand with DACA recipients.
“It reassured me we have a lot of support in Nebraska,” Reyna said. “It’s really powerful all these people came."
Those messages were reflected by NU administrators and student leaders, who gave a strong rebuke to Tuesday’s announcement from the Trump administration while urging action by Congress.
NU President Hank Bounds said the order to rescind DACA creates uncertainty for "hundreds of thousands of young people who have benefited from this program,” while UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green said the change raises larger questions about the university’s promise to welcome and teach all students as a land-grant institution.
Student government leaders at UNL will urge the state’s representatives in Washington to continue the program in a resolution to be voted on Wednesday, according to ASUN President Joe Zach.
“We’re really trying to get some positive change out of what can happen, rather than just slam the decision to rescind the executive order,” Zach said. “We’ll be focused on lobbying our federal officials to continue the program with congressional approval.”
Morin-Chavez, who renewed her DACA application earlier this year — it won’t expire until 2019 — said she is optimistic members of Congress will help find a path forward for so-called Dreamers like herself.
“I hope they can resolve something for us,” she said.