Indian American Boe (Benaz) Mendewala, an undocumented Ph.D. student studying physics at the University of California-Merced, travelled to Washington, DC Jan. 19 to urge members of Congress to pass a clean DREAM Act, permanently protecting 800,000 Dreamers from deportation.
Article by Sunita Sohrabji | India West
“I love science. It is such a beautiful way to understand the world. But I don’t know whether I will ever be able to pursue my dream of doing research in physics,” Mendewala, who has lived in the U.S. since the age of five, told India-West, explaining that her DACA status expires in April 2019 — just after her expected graduation date — which will leave her without a work permit, and no relief from deportation.
Boe Mendewala second from left.
“I went to DC to show Congress that this affects real lives, and is causing real damage,” she said, adding that she wants Congress to pass a DREAM Act which includes a path to citizenship, along with comprehensive immigration reform to fix a broken system.
“Dreamers have already proven they deserve a chance. We have held up our end of the bargain by going to college and serving in the military. We contribute to the American economy. It is the morally right thing to do to grant us our basic rights,” said Mendewala.
During her visit to the nation’s capital, Mendewala — who traveled with UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland and several other undocumented students — met with Indian American Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, a consistent advocate for Dreamers who has a sign outside her DC office that translates to “Dreamers are welcome here.”
“Sen. Harris was wonderful. She told me she was very proud of me,” Mendewala told India-West.
Harris was the first senator to mandate that provisions for Dreamers be included in a stopgap government spending bill. The government briefly shut down Jan. 19, as the administration and Democrats came to an impasse over immigration, but resumed Jan. 22 when Democrats signed the funding bill without protection for Dreamers.
Undocumented students have protested the Democrats’ acquiescence. Harris, along with California Sen. Diane Feinstein and a handful of other Democrats, did not sign the funding bill, which passed on a vote of 81-18.
Mendewala, a Parsi from Mumbai’s Grant Road, arrived in the U.S. with her family on visitors’ visas. When those expired, the family tried to apply for legal permanent residency, but their applications were denied. The family appealed their case all the way up to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but were denied.
When she was 16, Mendewala and her family got their final orders of deportation. They continued to remain in the country so that Mendewala and her younger brother could attend college here.
When she was a junior in college in 2015, President Barack Obama created under executive order the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provided a two-year renewable reprieve from deportation, along with work permits and drivers’ licenses to undocumented youth.
President Donald Trump rescinded DACA Sept. 5, 2017, ordering Congress to come up with a permanent solution to protect Dreamers by March 5, 2018. Two weeks ago, the White House and members of the Senate butted heads over remarks the president made regarding immigration from African countries and Haiti. Trump declared an immigration deal effectively dead, blaming Democrats for the stalemate.
UC Merced has the largest proportion of undocumented students in the UC system: an estimated 600 students and faculty. Several of them — like Mendewala — are the first in their families to attend university, and the first to attend graduate school.
Many Dreamers epitomize Trump’s vision of granting permanent residency based on merit. “This country has already invested in me. Why wouldn’t they want to use my skills?” she queried, noting that — if she has to leave the U.S. — her two degrees will be hugely useful to enrich research in another country.
“Every day, hundreds of people are losing their status. I think about losing my status all the time. I’m living in a daily uncertainty that does not allow me to plan my future,” she lamented to India-West.
“There are so many young people like me who have slipped through the cracks and are not afforded the amazing opportunities this country has to offer. It is really tragic,” said Mendewala.