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Keith Ellison, Tina Smith press case for state’s DACA recipients

As congressional deadline on DACA program nears, activists push for solution for young immigrants.

By Pat Pheifer Star Tribune

Jose Alvillar, 26, wants to be Minnesota’s education commissioner some day.

Eliphaz Omote, 25, wants to be chaplain of the U.S. Senate.

Both men are pursuing their dreams. They are “Dreamers” of a different sort, too: Minnesota recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, created by President Barack Obama’s executive order in 2012 and now poised to be phased out by the Trump administration.

Congress must act by early March to find a solution to the impasse over the nation’s approach to young immigrants brought to the United States as children. Without a compromise, nearly 800,000 people, including more than 6,000 in Minnesota, could be faced with deportation.

Omote and Alvillar were among the Dreamers who stood with U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., on Sunday morning at the Hennepin County Government Center for a news conference in support of DACA.

“Minnesota Dreamers are American in every way except their immigration status,” Smith told the crowd of about 200 people. “They work hard to improve our communities and to make our state better, not just for themselves and their families but for all of us.

“So the notion that we would turn our backs on Dreamers now … it’s just disgraceful,” she said.

Ellison said he is committed to “a clean DREAM Act,” one that would not include other issues such as a border wall.

Even then, he said, “We still got a broken immigration system. And we still have people in power who have an idea in their brains that Americans can only look a certain way, come from a certain place, be a certain color, be a certain religion.

“We absolutely reject that,” he said.

Alvillar, of Minneapolis, crossed the border from Mexico when he was 4. He came with his uncle and his 5-year-old sister to be reunited with his parents in Minnesota. He remembers an arduous journey, being detained and then imprisoned for a week. He knew even then, he said, that he was different.

“I was always told to stay under the radar, don’t be seen because you don’t want to cause any trouble,” he said.

Although he wasn’t eligible for student loans because of his immigration status, Alvillar put himself through Augsburg University in Minneapolis and is working on a master’s degree in education at Hamline University in St. Paul. He wants to get his doctoral degree and work on changing the culture of the education system.

Omote, of Fridley, was born in Kenya and came to Minnesota at age 11. He didn’t know he was undocumented until he graduated from high school.

“I wanted to go to college and pursue education, but I couldn’t,” he said. “It was a grueling experience, especially for me, being a highly driven and ambitious person.”

After DACA, Omote graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in psychology and management. He’s about to start classes for a master’s degree in divinity from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich.

Natalia Marchan, 27, of Austin, Minn., and Angelica Bello Ayapantecatl, 16, of Minneapolis, both leaders of the student movement for DACA, also spoke to the crowd Sunday.

“It’s a humanitarian issue,” Ayapantecatl said. “We’re going to fight.”

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