This is my home, Yovana Aliaga Centon says.

It's been her home since she was 5 years old, ever since her family boarded a plane in 2001 and flew from Venezuela to Nebraska in the middle of the winter with travel visas in hand.

Centon, 22, has lived here ever since, graduating from Lincoln Southeast High School and pursuing a career in social work as a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

"When we came here, I didn't know anyone, didn't speak English, was not equipped for the winter," she said.

"But people in Lincoln helped us survive with donations. That really sticks with me. This has always felt like home to me."

It's a home that became a secure and safe harbor in 2012 when President Barack Obama took executive action to create the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that gives Centon and hundreds of thousands of others who were brought to the United States illegally when they were babies or children legal presence to remain here.

Centon and her family lost their legal presence when their visas expired.

President Donald Trump has announced he will revoke DACA protections if Congress does not enact immigration reform, and Monday was the day he imposed as a deadline for action.

Centon is still here with a DACA permit in hand that is due to expire in August 2019.

But other DACA recipients are losing their legal protection every day as their documentation expires.

"I recognize the privilege and opportunity I have," Centon said during a telephone interview Monday before participating in a vigil at the state Capitol in support of DACA recipients.

As winds howled, more than 50 people huddled together in offering a unified message to elected officials. "If you won't let us dream, we won't let you sleep," they chanted.

Jorge Marroquin, a freshman economics student at UNL, spoke out at the event organized by Nebraska Appleseed.

"It is unsettling to think that people who have been here for most of their lives, who just want to be role models and give back to their community, would be sent back to a place they know nothing of," Marroquin said.

The United States, not Venezuela, is her home, Centon said.

"I don't have family there. I can't imagine going back. I never established a life there."

DACA has been a blessing for her, she said, and it's been supplemented by new state laws in Nebraska that opened the door to acquisition of a driver's license, college tuition assistance and eligibility for professional and occupational permits.

Beforehand, she said, "I felt that no matter how hard I tried, I was limited and I didn't have security. Now, I have more rights and the ability to better myself, to work at one or two jobs, to buy a car, to pay for tuition, to give back.

"I want to help better our nation and to help better the community that helped raise me," Centon said.

"And I want to be a voice for minorities and to help refugees."

Centon traveled to Washington last week and spoke at the Nebraska breakfast hosted by the state's congressional delegation, delivering her DACA message about hopes and dreams that she shares with all the other so-called Dreamers whose future remains in doubt.

"DACA helped me become a fighter for myself and for others," she said.


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