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Xavier student, DACA recipient: 'We're people. The United States is my home.'

Posted at 1:28 AM, Jan 20, 2018

CINCINNATI -- Heyra Avila was four years old when her family left Veracruz, Mexico -- too young to form memories that amount to more than single-frame flashes. She remembers sleeping in a truck with her mother, which she considered a privileged alternative to the desert floor.

When they reached the United States, she remembers seeing the apartment complex she was going to live in with her family; her first glimpse of snow; her first day of school. 

"The United States is my home," she said Friday.

Avila and 700,000 other young immigrants like her could have less than a year left in the only country they can remember calling home.

"We're people; we're not just bargaining chips," the Xavier University student said of herself and fellow beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. "The fact that we're just tossed around like facts and figures and used as political pawns is just so frustrating."

DACA became a major sticking point for both Democrats and Republicans in the lead-up to Friday night's government shutdown. President Trump, known for his anti-immigration stance and singling-out of Mexican migrants, announced in September 2017 his administration would end the program and ordered Congress to create a replacement by March 2018.

Democrats wanted some legal protection for DACA recipients included in a bill to keep the government funded; Republicans refused unless they could get funding for an $18 million wall on the United States' border with Mexico.

Neither budged. By Saturday morning, the future of the federal government had joined Avila and other DACA recipients in limbo. She said she welcomed the shutdown if only as a method of forcing other people to confront the uncertainty she carries around every day.

"I am so glad there are people in the government willing to hold off their vote in order for this to come to light," she said. "I do want people to see the gravity that we're in."

If Congress cannot reach a deal by March, Avila could face deportation to Mexico -- a country in which she said she sees no opportunities for her own future.

"It would be really hard to adapt. … I would be really sad missing everyone here, especially knowing all the things I'm capable of doing here in the United States with the given resources and opportunities here that just aren't made available in Mexico," she said. "The only thing I can do is wait and see what happens."