"Everything may be taken from you:" A Dreamer's Story
Juan Corral is an intern for the Columban Mission Center in El Paso, Texas. He spent the past month interviewing recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, or Dreamers. He also interviewed the friends of DACA recipients.
Enacted in 2012, the DACA program allowed young people brought to the United States by their parents before a certain age to be granted temporary relief from deportation and given permission to work, study, and obtain driver’s licenses. DACA recipients were required to apply for the program, provide personal information to the government, and pass rigorous background checks. The program benefited over 800,000 young adults.
In August of this year, President Trump announced his plan to end DACA, phasing out the program in March 2018. The burden is now with Congress to pass legislative protections for DACA recipients. We are calling on Congress to pass a ‘clean’ DREAM Act, the only bipartisan, bicameral legislative solution, as soon as possible.
DACA recipients contribute to our economy, are veterans of our military, members of our parishes, and leaders in our colleges and universities. Columbans across the United States minister to DACA recipients in our parishes and other faith-based programs. For many recipients, the United States in the only home they know.
What follows are the highlights of Juan’s conversation with Claudia, a DACA recipient living in El Paso, TX.
Juan: What was your life like before DACA, and what opportunities did the program allow you to pursue?
Claudia: I had applied for a green card in 2011, but was denied. This was three months prior to my high school graduation, and also the same day that I had received an acceptance letter from my dream university in Boston. A few weeks after the decision, I received a deportation letter in the mail. I was under removal proceedings when the DACA program was established the year after. DACA protected me from deportation and allowed me to work legally in the United States. I've been a taxpayer ever since. The DACA program empowered me to continue my education, establish a career, and become active in my community.
Juan: Have you thought about what your life would look like after March 5th, when the DACA program expires?
Claudia: I have the privilege of being part of a mixed-status family, since my two older brothers are U.S. citizens. I’m privileged to witness first-hand the countless benefits that immigrants can offer when they are provided with a pathway to citizenship. I also have a lot of family in Venezuela, a country I haven’t been too since I was 8 years old. We’ve already seen cases of DACA recipients being detained at checkpoints or at airports, and some even being deported. There is always the thought at the back of my mind that if I were deported, I would be sent back to a foreign country that is unstable --- a country that has the worst economy in the world, where people are literally eating food off the streets and dying just to make ends meet. My life is here in El Paso, a community with values that I have adopted as my own.
Juan: What do you think of the narrative that DACA recipients are criminals?
Claudia: I think there are a lot of misconception in my country about what immigrants and border communities looks like. There is a lot of hateful rhetoric being spit at us by the current administration. They conflate crime with immigrating, and paint all immigrants under a broad brush. Immigrants, documented or not, are vital members of the communities we live in and provide tremendous benefits to the economy. I won't allow others to criminalize my mother for making the difficult decision to move to this country. Most of the parents of the current DACA recipients were the original dreamers. They dreamed of better opportunities, to provide their children with a better life. We should acknowledge their accomplishments and contributions, not criminalize their love.
Juan also interviewed the friends of DACA recipients. What follows are the highlights of Juan’s interview with a friend of DACA recipients, who is a natural-born citizen, and who asked to remain anonymous.
Juan: What were your first thoughts when President Trump decided to terminate DACA?
Anon: I was home, and my first thought was that some of my best friends are DACA recipients. One of them in particular, I knew his DACA was going to expire in the upcoming year, so my first thought was what is the first thing I can do to help him before his term expires. So I was afraid for my friends, but kind of relieved in a twisted way that I was not being directly affected by it and that my family was safe. Safe, because my family had just become naturalized citizens, but fear that my closest friends are now at risk of losing everything.
Juan: What do you think about the narrative that DACA recipients are criminals? Have any of your DACA friends talked to you about this?
Anon: I personally feel that the people that believe this are misinformed. First, you can’t be a DACA recipient if you are a felon in any way and I believe you are only allowed three misdemeanors before your DACA is revoked. Secondly, I would say that this type of rhetoric has encouraged my friends to be more visible with their DACA status. A lot of people used to be very afraid of even coming out as a DACA recipient, and I can emphasize with that. But the friends that I have, have definitely become more vocal because they believe that it’s important to show the community that they should take ownership of the rhetoric and change it. They value the importance of the position that they’re in right now, to be able to change the story.
Juan: What opportunities has DACA allowed your friends to pursue?
Anon: I know that it’s created a lot of opportunity for my friends. It’s allowed them to go to school here; I know that they finance their own education. There’s a huge misconception that DACA recipients can receive financial aid, but they can’t. One of the things DACA gives you is a work permit, so they finance their education by working. That allows them to do what their parents were looking for when came to this wonderful country, to work in a land filled with opportunity.
Juan: What are your thoughts on DACA ending after March 5th ?
Anon: One of my friends specifically --- all his family are U.S. citizens and he’s lived in the U.S. longer than I have, and I was born here. But he’s at risk of being deported to a country that he has never called home and he where would be alone. That is terrifying, terrifying for me and I’m not even at risk of that. Another one is fear of losing their jobs and stability. They have their professions because of DACA and now they’re at risk of losing everything. You’ve worked really hard to be able to be better and to be a member of the community and to give back, only for that to be taken away from you.