Around 2006 I experienced an awakening. It started with an article about a young woman who was studying to be a doctor. This woman was doing everything she was supposed to do, was at the top of her class, but lived with the fear that she may never be able to practice medicine. I read the article, was impacted by her story, but none of it really made sense to me. I didn’t understand how a person with this level of drive and talent was in this position. Around the same time, I started to realize that some of my students had similar stories: a student majoring in automotive who expressed his hope that he wouldn’t be deported because he didn’t even speak Spanish, a young woman struggling to find ways to pay for a degree she wasn’t sure she could ever use, another young woman trying to decide if pursuing a degree was worth it at all. These students were some of my most dedicated and I, a teacher and advisor whose job it was to help students gain the confidence and skills they needed to achieve their dreams, was introduced to a world where hard work and perseverance wasn’t enough to guarantee these dreams could ever be realized. Troubled by the trend I was seeing, I dedicated myself to learning more about my students. Some of whom I discovered were part of a larger group called the Dreamers. The Dreamers who, up until last month, were protected by DACA.
As you are bombarded with news and opinions regarding the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, you may feel this issue is not yours. I want you to know whether you are a first-generation immigrant or not, it does affect you. The young person benefitting from DACA could be your classmate, teammate, or even your best childhood friend. The main difference between a DACA recipient and a non-DACA recipient is that until the summer of 2012, these young people had no official status, or were undocumented. Which, as you can imagine, had resulted in numerous issues as they tried to carve out lives in the only home country they had ever known.
DACA, implemented in 2012 through an Executive Order, provided deferred action regarding immigration enforcement for a very select group of immigrants, the Dreamers, who came to the U.S. as minors and met a list of stringent criteria. The DACA program provided a legal path to documentation, but not citizenship. (For more detailed information on the program, visit https://www.uscis.gov/archive/consideration-deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-daca.)
When DACA was enacted, I cannot begin to express what a huge relief it was for my Dreamer students and those of us who worked closely with them. The bright, ambitious Cowley students we knew finally had the opportunity to press forward with their dreams, to have documentation and a form of legal immigration status. I remember thinking that DACA wasn’t ideal (there is a more comprehensive bill, the Dream Act, that would have provided Dreamers with a path to citizenship), but it was an opportunity. I also remember being a little apprehensive that if the program were for some reason repealed, our Dreamers could be worse off than they were before because the federal government would have all of their personal information and they would have no legal protection. Unfortunately, there was very little choice for them if they wanted to pursue their dreams and have some stability. As a result, many Dreamers moved forward with DACA in spite of its limited protections.
I know from watching my students pursue DACA that the application process was in no way easy. In many cases, it required an attorney, in nearly all cases a $495 application fee, and the entire process had to be repeated every two years.
Unfortunately, living in the space DACA recipients had little choice but to inhabit created vulnerability. Their deferred status could be taken at any time. This is the current situation unless Congress reaches an agreement on immigration reform within the next six months. DACA was never intended to be a permanent solution for the Dreamers. It was issued to provide time and space for Congress to work on a true immigration reform bill. Five years later, that bill has not materialized, but there are 800,000 young people in the U.S. who have willingly and lawfully provided all their personal information to the U.S. Federal Government in good faith. Without DACA, these young people no longer have protection from deportation. In spite of the fact that they have met stringent criteria to be in the U.S., they could be deported from the only home many of them have ever known.
When I see news relating to the DACA repeal, I don’t picture an inexplicable acronym related to another law I don’t understand, or a specific political position. I picture 800,000 Dreamers who have been raised and educated in the U.S., and whose futures hang in the balance as they wait for Congress to finally come to an agreement on an immigration bill. I picture my students.
DACA may have 800,000 faces, but I am closely connected to three. I see these young people clearly, their hopes and dreams, the amazing people they are, and how much richer their communities are because they are there.
Note: Congress has to reach a bi-partisan agreement on immigration reform in the next six months in order for DACA recipients, Dreamers, to maintain their current legal status. At this time, DACA has been repealed, meaning those who were protected under this program will no longer have protection once their applications expire. To read some Dreamers personal stories, go to https://unitedwedream.org/category/dreamer-narratives/
Amy McWhirt, Humanities Instructor