There once was a country with no borders, free trade and inherent hospitality. A clear path was laid for those heading to markets or traveling through communities. Neighbors housed travelers and fed them while they were on the way to their destination. Trees were never chopped, but fallen branches were used for firewood to preserve the forests, and natural medicine and organic techniques cured nearly every illness. This place was Guatemala before the civil war. This place is where Maria Shavalan-Sut grew up, then fled nearly six years ago.
Ms. Shavalan-Sut is on the run today, not from the Guatemalan government, but from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who threaten to send her back to the country that nearly killed her. She fled to the U.S. in 2015 seeking asylum and ended up in Richmond, Virginia. She now lives in a sanctuary church, the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she is safe from deportation for now.
The AP reports that a clear path to citizenship and safety would have been laid out in Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending bill, but Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that the money can’t be used to give millions of immigrants that chance.
“We are deeply disappointed in this decision but the fight to provide lawful status for immigrants in budget reconciliation continues,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a written statement.
The Delaware Hispanic Commission hosted a press conference on Wednesday to highlight the stories of those that would be affected by the provisions, including Ms. Shavalan-Sut. She is of Maya Kaqchikel, an indigenous group of people from the western highlands of Guatemala. Her family was recruited by the farmers that stole their land long before she was born.
She recounts memories from her childhood during the war in Guatemala: physical punishment from teachers for having dirt under her nails; the army killing her newly married, pregnant cousin; and men with machine guns surrounding her home, where her mother sat with her 6-month-old sibling, preparing corn.
The Guatemalan Civil War lasted from 1966-1996. In that time, the Guatemalan government took control of the land, taking it from the indigenous peoples and exerting control over them to make a profit. They also worked closely with U.S. forces to secure U.S. interests and gave tax exemptions to U.S. corporations like the United Fruit Company.
“They took the land because the natives do not sell the land, because the land is like the mother,” she said. “She nurtures you and allows you to eat. You cannot sell the land, it belongs to God.”
Diana Sanroman-Espinosa shared her story during the press conference to explain the legal boundaries for recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. She was a DACA recipient herself, but recently became a U.S. citizen.
Born in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico, Ms. Sanroman-Espinosa moved to the United States with her family in 2003, when she was just 2 years old, in search of guaranteed safety and adequate education. She said she didn’t know she was illegal until she reached middle school, and started to experience the hardships that come without citizenship in high school.
“At first I thought DACA would give me everything, that everything would be solved in my life, that every aspect that I was struggling with would be over,” Ms. Sanroman-Espinosa said. “I came to realization that it did not give me everything. When I was trying to apply to colleges, everyone around me was applying easily, they had no struggle to apply for financial aid or colleges.”
Despite her academic standings in the top 10% of her class, Ms. Sanroman-Espinosa received one rejection letter after another due to her legal status. She was eventually accepted to the University of Delaware, where more struggles lay ahead.
“Although I was able to get accepted, the financial aspect and (assembling my) class schedule became a struggle for me,” she said. “My legal status labeled me as an international student, although I’ve been living in the United States my whole entire life … I would have to leave classes and go to the Student Services Building crying because I couldn’t go to class or I couldn’t pay for school anymore.”
Once Ms. Sanroman-Espinosa became a legal citizen after her first year of college, her troubles melted away. Ms. Sanroman-Espinosa said that DACA opens doors to closed gates for immigrants.
“Everything that took me months to do, took me a day,” she said.
Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long listened to these womens’ stories, and said she and the congressional delegation will fight and work diligently to help them.
“I know for a lot of people, this weekend felt defeating,” she said. “But this is a human issue, not a political issue. We value you, we support you, we recognize your contributions.”
The AP reports that Ms. MacDonough cited a Congressional Budget Office estimate that Democrats’ proposals would increase federal deficits by $140 billion over the coming decade, largely because of federal benefits immigrants would qualify for. But Charito Calvachi-Mateyko, founding member of the Latino Initiative on Restorative Justice and press conference host, said with citizenship, quality of life and economy improve for all.
“Citizenship for immigrants will not only be the moral thing to do,” Ms. Calvachi-Mateyko said. “But an economic booster for the nation.”
According to the AP, Senate Democrats have prepared alternate proposals and will be holding additional meetings with the Senate parliamentarian in the coming days.