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Former President Barack Obama stopped by Hell’s Kitchen on the 10th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA), with the milestone marked by a roundtable between the former head of state, ¡Americano! producer and real-life inspiration Tony Valdovinos, and other Dreamers to commemorate the past decade and recommit to the road ahead.
“Had it not been for your courage and example that you set, we might not have gotten this done,” said President Obama as he sat under a US flag on the stage set of ¡Americano! — the new musical about Valdovinos’s life as a Dreamer which closes this week at New World Stages.
Speaking of his experiences meeting Dreamers around the country during his campaign and time in the White House, President Obama said: “I would meet young people who had been brought to this country at a very young age, who were as American as Malia or as Sasha were in terms of their values, their upbringing, their experiences. They loved this country deeply, and yet because of a piece of paper their lives were extraordinarily vulnerable.”
Valdovinos — whose deeply personal story of applying to enlist in the Marines before discovering that he was undocumented plays nightly at the W50th Street theater — was moved by the former President’s choice of venue to mark the occasion.
“I could not be more honored that President Barack Obama chose the set of ¡Americano! as the place to mark the 10-year anniversary of DACA,” said Valdovinos. “It was truly inspiring to sit down with President Obama and these incredible Dreamers. We were grateful to share our personal stories, our challenges and the successes, which were made possible because of DACA. Thank you President Obama for the opportunity.”
Valdovinos was joined by Jessica Astudillo, Devashish Basnet, Josue de Paz, and Sumbul Siddiqui — Dreamers who grew up in the United States as undocumented immigrants and shared their stories of navigating new opportunities opened up by DACA and the challenges that still lie ahead.
“It’s just been really powerful for me to be able to hope and to not live in fear,” said Josue de Paz, an incoming Obama Scholar at Columbia University. “I attended public institutions my entire life because of the support that schools offered for DACA recipients,” said Devashish Basnet. “Now I will be attending the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. I’ve always learned that the people closest to the problems are often the closest to solutions, so I hope to get some education and then return to the United States and work on immigration policy.”
“It was my mom’s dream for her children to get the best education possible and to find ways to rise up,” said Sumbul Siddiqui, a MD/MPH student at the Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health. “Now I hope to work in primary care in underserved communities.”
Valdovinos, who had previously met the former president in his work as an electoral organizer through La Machine, asked Obama for guidance on the path forward. DACA recipients, while still eligible to renew their temporary protections, do not have permanent status as residents in the US — and amid Republican backlash to the program, new applications are not being granted, leaving thousands of young people without the documentation needed for college or employment.
“I think ultimately as a DACA recipient myself doing electoral work, my only question is — what do we do next?” said Valdovinos.
“I think that it is going to be a long road for us — and so the more voices like yours that are out there, the better chance we have to change people’s attitudes,” answered Obama, adding: “Part of the reason we wanted to highlight the 10th anniversary of DACA is because it’s not done. Having seen the remarkable things that this group of DACA kids have done with their lives — what an asset they are to this country — I hope this inspires us to redouble our efforts and to do something about our immigration system. I hope that their stories reaffirm the need for us to come up with a smart, orderly, and compassionate immigration system — because our work isn’t yet done.”
I live in Hells Kitchen. I understand that this was kept low key. Obama was the most understanding and popular in my eyes. Unfortunately some people in government did not share his views and ideals. Even though his thinking would help millions of Americans. I never understood why certain parts of government would work against their best interests for Americans. But I’m glad he is still working to make America a better place to live. Which unfortunately with YOUR LAST president has brought out racism to whole new level. I pray that President Biden can do what he can in government to make things better.
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