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Under threat of deportation, dreamers speak out

18th September 2017   ·   0 Comments

Valeria (left) and her sister, Miriam (right), arrived in the United States from Mexico with their mother in 2000 when Valeria was 7 years old. Both sisters currently have DACA status.

Valeria (left) and her sister, Miriam (right), arrived in the United States from Mexico with their mother in 2000 when Valeria was 7 years old. Both sisters currently have DACA status.

By Meghan Holmes
Contributing Writer

Valeria, manager at a New Orleans restaurant, was behind the bar setting up for a shift, when from the television she heard the news: DACA had been rescinded.

“I looked up at the TV and it was on the news, that DACA was ending. I felt like I was going to break down, so I went to the back and started crying. I knew Trump had made a promise to his supporters, so I wasn’t shocked, but I did have a sense of bewilderment…like, what’s going to happen to us now?” she wondered.

Valeria and her sister arrived in the United States from Mexico with their mother when she was only seven. Both sisters currently have DACA status. DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, protects around 800,000 people in the United States from deportation and allows them to work legally. On September 5, the Trump Administration an-nounced an end to the program, which President Obama launched in 2012. Subsequent tweets from President Trump encouraged Congress to “do their job” and pass legislation to protect the Dreamers (individuals with DACA status, so named because of past efforts at establishing a path to citizenship with the DREAM Act bill).

Recent meetings between Trump and top Democrats suggest a deal could be brokered, particularly if Democrats agree to finance the president’s border wall. (Democrats currently refuse to fund the wall). Any bill that ultimately provides a path to citizenship for Dreamers will mean a break between Trump and his base, and a reversal of campaign promises, but deporting DACA status holders is very unpopular with the country as a whole. A recent Politico poll found that only 15 percent of Americans support deporting Dreamers.

“The DACA program benefits immigrants who arrived in the United States prior to age 16, who have passed a criminal background check,” says Allison Davenport, staff attorney with Immigrant Legal Resource Center. “The status was renewable every two years, and many individuals renewed two or sometimes even three times in the last five years since the program’s implementation. Now, new applications are no longer being accepted. DACA recipients whose status will expire within the next six months can apply for reauthorization. Unless something changes, permits will begin to expire. This represents a major shift in policy, since so many people have enrolled and renewed since 2012.”

The announcement was met with immediate legal challenges. Batalla Vidal, a 26-year-old Dreamer living in New York, filed suit against the federal government in conjunction with the nonprofit Make the Road New York and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC). “We are arguing the decision violates federal law,” says Ignacia Rodriguez, immigration policy advocate with NILC. “It violates the equal protection clause as well as the Administrative Procedures Act, forbidding arbitrary actions of the federal government without justification.”

Fifteen states and Washington, D. C. also filed suit following the announcement.

“We are mobilizing state and local governments to come together to protect dreamers and work to pass a clean, bipartisan DREAM act to provide relief and stability to immigrant youth,” Rodriguez says.

Actions also took place around the country following the announcement. In New Orleans, hundreds gathered at an event organized by Nuestra Voz NOLA, an immigrant rights nonprofit. Valeria attended the protest.

“There were Latinos, African Americans, and white allies present at the action. It was inspiring. I think it showed that people were willing to stand with us. We made signs together and listened to speakers from different communities discussing how to move forward together,” she says.

Valeria first heard about DACA when President Obama announced the program in 2012. “I knew it could transform my destiny. I could work legally and move up and have opportunity, and build up credit.”

After receiving DACA status, Valeria got a job in Thibodeaux, La. as a police dispatcher. She was hired because they needed someone bilingual. A co-worker told her that Loyola offered a program in interpretation and translation in the legal and healthcare professions, and she enrolled. The end of DACA potentially means the end of her studies, as the doors legal status and a work permit have opened for her would close. She would not be able to continue to take out loans for tuition.

Valeria’s experience aligns with findings from a recently published national survey, which interviewed more than 3,000 Dreamers. More than 90 percent are employed, and 45 percent are in college.

“The data makes it clear that DACA works,” says Tom Wong, associate professor of political science at UC San Diego, who completed the Dreamers study along with United We Dream and the Center for American Progress.

“Nearly a quarter of DACA recipients have purchased their first home since enrolling in the program, and 64 percent purchased cars. Their legal status allows them to pay state and federal taxes, and they have a large impact on the broader economy. These people are Americans in every sense of the word but for a piece of paper. The average age of entry was 6.5 years, and now they are hitting their stride as young adults. Pulling the plug on them now is not good policy, it’s just political expediency,” says Wong.

Wong’s study also debunks claims that DACA recipients take jobs from American workers, an assertion Jeff Sessions reiterated when he announced the end of the program.

“It’s best to see Dreamers as a complement to native born workers, not a competitor. These are highly skilled workers, looking to fill shortages in the labor market. We know there are nurse shortages in Texas and California, and DACA recipients are pursuing careers in health. They are poised to fill labor shortages, and Sessions misses that point.”

After the announcement, Valeria went to management at her job, letting them know she could lose her DACA status. “They’re extremely supportive and just told me to keep them updated. I know they value me, but I don’t know what will happen if I lose my work permit. I want to be able to finish my program and get my certification, but I also have to think about starting over, completely, in a different country. Even if it was my home, it’s completely different than when I left it seventeen years ago.”

Valeria looks to Trump’s tweets as a sign that he may be wavering on his commitment to deport the Dreamers, and remains hopeful.

“He said he doesn’t want to deport people that are educated just because they’re immigrants. He knows we have things to offer,” she said. “If you want to make America great again, you need everyone. It takes a whole nation to make people great.”

This article originally published in the September 18, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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