Dreamers Face the Death of DACA
By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor
Diana Hernandez was only 2 years old when her mother brought her to America.
Her single mother was encouraged by her two other siblings to come to the land of opportunities and provide a better life for her children.
“I don’t remember anything from when I was 2 years old,” Hernandez, 19, remarks. “I knew we were very poor, but I didn’t know I was undocumented.”
Hernandez always wanted to be a doctor, but her dreams were stymied when conversations about college began to surface.
“[My mother said,] ‘I am here to help you and support you, but first, I don’t know if we can afford it and second of all we don’t have papers, no tenemos papeles,’” Hernandez, who grew up in San Pedro, said. “I was bummed out many times. ‘What if all my hard work doesn’t pay off?”
She knew college was a necessity to become a doctor and, while she questioned her future, she didn’t give up school.
“Like my mother said, ‘Hasta donde se pueda, (Up to where it is possible)’” she recalled.
But everything changed for her after President Barack Obama signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, in June of 2012. The policy was established to protect people who were minors when their parents brought them to the United States, known as Dreamers. They were allowed to go to school and work without being deported by receiving a renewable two-year deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit.
Hernandez filed the paperwork, paid the fees and was set up with DACA by the summer of 2015.
“This is one step closer to reach your goal,” she remembered reflecting. “It started coming together and I actually had a possibility in my life.”
Through the Boys & Girls Club of the Los Angeles Harbor’s College Bound program she was able explore her option and get several private scholarships and loans (undocumented students are not eligible to receive federal grants or loans) to attend the University of California San Diego.
“I do not have a full ride to UCSD,” she said. “All the money is from organizations and universities that give out loans.”
There, she has decided to combine her love for math with that of medicine. She is majoring in bioengineering. Her aspiration is to become a biomedical engineer.
“I want to be able to help people … by making medical devices to expand their life spectrum,” she said.
But her dreams are now in limbo. On Sept. 5, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Donald Trump administration was going to rescind DACA within six months.
“I was really crushed because [we were given] a span of six months where we are floating and at the same time drowning,” Hernandez said.
Alejandro Campos has a similar story. He was a teenager when something made him divert attention from his educational and career goals.
“I didn’t realize I was undocumented until I was in high school, when I tried to get into the Army,” Campos, 33, said.
He was only 8 years old when his mother brought him to the United States from Mexico to escape domestic violence. They had family here who were already citizens. So, Alejandro and his mother joined them and overstayed their visa.
Unable to pay for higher education, Campos spent most of those years working construction and odd jobs to help his mother. This changed four years ago, after saving some money to pay for his education and Obama signed DACA.
Thirty-five-year-old Hugo Villanueva was 12 years old when he came to the United States, also escaping violence. His father was the mayor of a small town in Mexico, who would use government money to help the poor. This displeased rich landowners, who persecuted the family. In 1985, the father was murdered.
Villanueva had an older brother living in the United States. In 1994, his brother asked his mother to come to this side of the border where they would be safe.
“We flew to [Tijuana] and spent a week without eating and sleeping on the streets,” he said. “A lady took us into her home let us bathe and fed us.”
In August of 1994, after several attempts, the two crossed the border.
Most people do not realize the high costs and complicated process of the immigration procedure. Asylum, for example, is rarely granted to Mexican citizens.
His brother was able to sponsor their mother and she now is a citizen. However, Villanueva’s sponsorship is taking longer because siblings rank lower on the levels of sponsorship. If he were to attempt to get sponsored by their mother, the process would start again and might take another 15 to 20 years.
Villanueva, a Harbor City resident, said he has been in the process since 2001. While he has some community college credits, he now has to work as a busboy to help support his ailing 78-year-old mother. He questions whether he should resume his education or save his resources in case he is deported back to Mexico.
“It’s going to bring all of us back into the shadows,” he said. “It ties a knot around your feet and hands.”
A World Without DACA
Upon his announcement to rescind the policy, Sessions argued that Dreamers were taking the jobs of native-born Americans, denying “jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take their jobs.”
The Trump administration went as far as using claims to pit Americans of African descent against undocumented immigrants.
“It’s a known fact that there are over 4 million unemployed Americans in the same age group as those that are DACA recipients; that over 950,000 of those are African Americans in the same age group; over 870,000 unemployed Hispanics in the same age group,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, hours after the announcement.
About 800,000 Dreamers who came into the United States without documents, when they were minors, will be eligible for deportation. In California, more than 200,000 youths will be impacted. Every year, about 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school, according to a 2015 study published by the Indiana International & Comparative Law Review called, Access to Higher Education for Undocumented and “Dacamented” Students: The Current State of Affairs.
But Vincent Burr, president of the Carson-Torrance Branch of the NAACP, dispelled those claims, stating that the current administration has been attempting to pit communities of color against each other sinceTrump took office.
“We are not being displaced by the DACA recipients,” Burr said. “We are being displaced by the outsourcing of work…. He’s created nothing but diversion.”
Burr noted how most of the work Trump has in his private businesses is outsourced to other countries.
“And yet, he still says, ‘Make America great,’” Burr said. “It’s left up to people in the community not to be distracted by the propaganda. When he attacked people, people of color he attacked all of us. We have to keep the eye on the prize: To bring unity.”
Hernandez agreed, noting that immigration is an issue that doesn’t only impact Latino immigrants. Dreamers are comprised of people from not only Latin-American nations but nations across the world, she said.
“People of color should be united,” she said. “I remember having a teacher say, ‘They are still hiring people at my job, so I don’t think I’m taking anybody’s job.’”
Trump urged Congress to replace DACA within six months, when the current administration plans to phase out the program.
The Department of Homeland Security adjudicated requests for DACA accepted by Sept. 5; it will no longer accept advance parole requests associated with DACA. It will only adjudicate DACA renewal requests received by Oct. 5 from beneficiaries whose benefits expire between Sept. 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018.
Following the announcement, protests broke out throughout the nation, including a rally Sept. 6, at Harvey Milk Park in Long Beach.
Undocumented and Unafraid
A diverse group of about 200 people showed up at the Long Beach park that evening.
“They are using these tactics to keep us afraid,” said Elizabeth Garcia, a member for the Democratic Socialists of America Long Beach, who spoke at the rally.
Beyond the economic statistics and political arguments there is one reason, and one reason alone that should be considered, she said.
“There is value that is inherent,” she said. “We protect people because they’re human beings.”
Rev. Nancy Frausto, an associate rector at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Long Beach called the audience to action.
“I am a DACA recipient,” Frausto said. “We Dreamers are powerful. We are going to unite with each other. We are not going to allow ourselves to be stepped on.”
She also spoke of the fear that has resulted from rescinding of the policy.
“Dreamers, I know what you are feeling,” she said. “I know that it’s a scary time, but don’t give up. We are strong; we are resilient; and we are Americans.”
Michelle Conley of Indivisible Long Beach shared the sentiment.
“These Dreamers are American in every single way, but one: in paper,” Conley said.
Ester Del Valle, the mother of a DACA recipient, took a brave step on the stage as she spoke of the pride she has for her daughter, who graduated from college. She said she does not regret coming to this country or to the City of Long Beach without documents.
“It’s difficult to share something that in these moments we [are living], as a mother, as a neighbor,” she said in Spanish. “It’s not easy to share the story, but I have to because there are other parents who are afraid…. What I ask is that the representatives fight for us…. It is urgent that the City of Long Beach becomes a sanctuary city.”
A Place to Feel Safe
The rally was not just intended to discuss the recent DACA policy decision by the administration, but also to call for the Mayor of Long Beach, Robert Garcia, a Peruvian immigrant, and his city council to call help pass a sanctuary city ordinance. The ordinance would help protect undocumented immigrant by preventing city agencies, such as the police department, schools and churches, to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport undocumented students and workers.
Supporters of immigrant rights say the mayor has remained silent on the local law proposal.
“We want the city to stand with immigrants and our way of life,” said Alicia Morales, program manager for the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition. “It is also an opportunity to engage our city leaders.”
Morales is an undocumented immigrant and a DACA recipient.
“Yesterday (Sept. 5) was a blow to our humanity,” Morales said. “To watch what Jeff Sessions rescinded was unreal…. Were we expected to resume a life of second-class status? DACA was not given to the undocumented community. We fought for it…. We cannot let white supremacy dominate our society.”
While she is determined Morales also is scared, she said.
“I began to reflect on [Jeff Session’s] statement and I realized that they are serious,” she said. “The weight of that deadline is daunting.”
She said she understands the reaction toward undocumented immigrants as breaking the law, but she also calls on Americans to reflect on the reasons immigrants come to this country.
“People need to question the root causes of immigration and realize that the U.S. is complicit in the migration of all these immigrants,” she said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a free pass to give the people who have … contributed to society.”
Efforts were made to contact Garcia, but his office has not responded as of press time.
In 2007, the DREAM Act bill, which would have provided a pathway for permanent residency for unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as minors, failed to get bipartisan support in the Senate. It was considered again in 2010; the bill passed the House of Representatives but did not get the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican Senate filibuster. The failure of the DREAM Act to pass in Congress was the driver for Obama to sign DACA. The policy allowed certain immigrants to escape deportation and obtain work permits for a period of two years, renewable upon good behavior. To apply, immigrants had to be younger than 31 on June 15, 2012, must have come to the United States, when they were younger than 16, and must have lived in the country since 2007. In August 2012, the Pew Research Center estimated that up to 1.7 million people might be eligible.
Republican Party leaders denounced the DACA program as an abuse of executive power.
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund President and general counsel Thomas A. Saenz explained how rescinding DACA could have a negative impact in a Huffington Post column published Sept. 1, Another Reason Trump Should Ignore Texas’ DACA Deadline.
Texas issued a threat at the end of June coercing Trump to rescind DACA by Sept. 5, which, as he promised during his campaign, he did.
Saenz said racial animus can jeopardize an exercise of government discretion.
“The Supreme Court held over 40 years ago that unconstitutional, discriminatory intent may be proven through indirect, circumstantial evidence,” Saenz wrote. “In this regard, Trump already starts at something of a disadvantage…. Trump continues to receive advice from folks — including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and anti-immigrant Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — whose histories and ongoing comments strongly suggest bias and prejudice. “Unfortunately, some of these same people are the ones who are presumably providing ‘legal’ advice on DACA.”
DACA: Only a Temporary Solution
While fighting for the stability of DACA recipients is important, it is also important to understand that DACA was an executive order, which was not passed by Congress. That’s important because it is only a band aid to larger issue, said journalist Eileen Traux, author of Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation’s Fight for the American Dream.
Obama signed the executive order in hopes that Congress would pass an immigration reform law while the Dreamers found some relief, but that did not happen.
“DACA doesn’t resolve their immigration status and, as we are seeing, leaves [Dreamers] vulnerable,” Traux said. “It seems like a game in which the immigrants always lose.”
Passing a DREAM Act should be the ultimate goal, she said.
“In addition to focusing on defending DACA, we need to go the extra mile and find the permanent solution through legislation, realizing the status through the law.”
Nevertheless, the news that 45 was rescinding DACA struck fear in the hearts of Dreamers. But many are vowing to put themselves out there and fight for immigration reform.
“La lucha sigue y no nos daremos por vencidos (the struggle continues and we won’t give up,” Campos said.
With all the partisan games being played in Washington, D.C., Dreamers may have to continue their struggle, as Hernandez’s mother once said, “Hasta donde se pueda.”