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With news of DACA's end, UCLA student declares herself 'undocumented and unafraid'

At 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, several students gathered at the UCLA Labor Center to watch a livestream of the Trump administration's announcement on whether it would extend protections for nearly 800,000 young immigrants like them.

When U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions announced the government would rescind the Obama-era policy known as DACA that has deferred deportation proceedings and let these immigrants study and work, the room went dead silent.

"There was disbelief at the way Jeff Sessions was framing it – that we take jobs, that we're criminals," said 22-year-old Yael, who is on track to graduate from UCLA this month in psychology and labor and workplace studies. 

But as the news sank in, Yael said, another sentiment surfaced: a determination to reject fear and unite with others to press Congress to extend the protections.

"We need to not be afraid. We need to not let cops and Congress terrorize us," Yael said. "This is the time to hit the streets and organize. DACA does not define us. Our success doesn't depend on legislation. We are human beings who deserve dignity, peace and justice above all."

Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, immigrants who came to the country illegally or fell out of legal status before age 16 but stayed in school and out of trouble were eligible to apply for deferral of deportation and a work permit.

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security memo released Tuesday said students with DACA status will remain protected until their two-year terms expire and pending applications for status and renewals will be processed. New applications will be rejected. 

Yael, a native of Mexico, was brought to the United States illegally when she was 4. She excelled at her La Puente high school, with a 4.5 GPA. At UCLA, she has maintained a 3.5 GPA even as she worked two jobs and took leadership roles in campus organizations.

She is a leader at IDEAS at UCLA, the campus' first student-led group to support peers without legal status. She also works at the UCLA Labor Center, whose DREAM Resource Center conducts research on immigration and offers immigrant students leadership training and help in getting internships.

Her parents, she said, own a home, pay taxes and have created nearly a dozen jobs through their contracting and maintenance business.  

"Undocumented folks are really good at making ends meet and finding a way forward," Yael said. "Our resilience and determination will not let this fear-mongering stop us."

(Yael's last name has been removed from a previous version of this story after reports received of threats against her.)

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