Bullied 'Dreamer' Takes Action, Gains Support

Oct 27, 2017

The Trump administration last month announced plans to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals  program.  It gives temporary protection to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US as children.

With DACA ending next March, Congress has fewer than six months to find a legislative alternative. 

After being bullied on social media, a college student in Lexington is doing what she can to help others like herself.

Twenty-one-year-old Paola Garcia is one of the so-called “Dreamers” or DACA recipients, and a senior at Transylvania University.

Garcia’s parents moved from Mexico to West Virginia when she was two-years-old.   She first experienced discrimination in the fourth grade when a classmate said she needed to go back to Mexico.

“I was like, 'What does that mean exactly? Why?' It was something I had shared with my classmates. I was born in Mexico. I was proud of Mexico. I was proud of my culture.

He turned that against me. From that moment on, I was very wary.  Unfortunately, it has been something I’ve dealt with all my life since then.”

Last summer,  a fellow student at Transy targeted Garcia on Facebook by posting her cover page with Donald Trump’s picture and the words, “Not my president.”

That student, Taylor Ragg also shared her bio that reads “Undocumented, unapologetic and unafraid.”  He posted it to a racial hate group with the intention of getting her deported.

After that Paola was harassed online and received racist threats.

“This guy actually sent me pictures of him filling out a tip form to Homeland Security with my information on it. And a lot of other people were like,  'Thanks for your information, you’ve being reported to ICE and they’re coming for you.'”

When she reported the behavior to her school, she says  she was initially told there wasn’t  enough evidence to pursue a case against Ragg, that his actions had simply been a recommendation to his readers about how to respond to her undocumented status.

At that point, she decided she needed to speak up and she asked for help in a YouTube video.

It went viral and Garcia’s story gained national attention.

“I don’t ever see myself as a victim. I did it so that my story could be someone else’s reason to keep fighting, someone else’s reason to speak out, someone else’s reason to go out and do  something for themselves, for their peers.”

Transylvania spokeswoman Michele Gaither Sparks says officials at the school were heartbroken about the situation and were inundated with emails of support for Ms Garcia.

”We followed our policies and procedures throughout this entire process.”

Sparks confirmed that Mr. Ragg is no longer enrolled at Transylvania University.

On a recent Wednesday, more than 20 people gathered at a Lexington coffee house to raise money and awareness for DACA recipients, inspired by Paola’s story. One of the organizers  was Transy student Annelisa Hermosilla.

"Molas are a Panamanian art form, it’s like folk art from indigenous tribes. It’s kind of like quilting where you take layers of fabric and you make patterns out of them. So this is Molas for DACA. It’s just kind of a get together to do some art and raise awareness about DACA and also give some donations so they’ll go to foundations that support DACA.”

Emily Goodman, assistant art history professor at Transy is decorating a Hibiscus Flower .

“So the entire  fundraiser tonight is  learning another culture and also raising money for DACA because we have DACA students on our campus."

Garcia was greatful to everyone who showed up for the event.

I think it’s very therapeutic and it creates a safe space to have open conversations about what happened, what’s happening and what can we do to change things in a more positive way.”

Earlier this month, she traveled to Washington, D.C. with other DACA recipients to persuade members of Congress to pass the latest version of the DREAM ACT.

"Yeah I’m gonna graduate from this amazing, prestigious school but I can’t do anything with that degree without DACA or citizenship or residency, without a legal status here.”