DACA recipients worry about their future
The children of illegal immigrants, brought to the U.S. before their 16th birthdays, are once again in legal limbo.
On Sept. 5, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration was rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, which had been established by an executive memorandum on June 15, 2012, during the Obama administration.
Since then, some 800,000 young people have been accepted into the program across the country, including more than 11,000 in Oregon.
The program allowed young people with no lawful status who came to the U.S. prior to their 16th birthdays, who were under age 31 on the day of the memorandum, and who had continuously lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007, to apply for a renewable two-year deferral from deportation, as well as a work permit, at a cost of about $495.
To apply, young people also had to have a high school diploma or a GED, a clean record, an honorable discharge from the armed services, or be currently enrolled in school.
Two young Madras residents spoke separately about their situations on the condition of anonymity. Both were brought to the U.S. by their parents when they were 6 or 7, and both signed up for the DACA program shortly after it became available.
One of the two, a 29-year-old woman, graduated from Madras High School and wanted to go to college, but found that it was too expensive. So, she took classes at Central Oregon Community College. "Back then, if you mentored Latino high school students, they would pay for two or three classes per term," she said.
"Since I didn't have a work permit, I had little jobs here and there," she said. When it became too expensive, she moved back home to Madras.
In 2012, she applied for the DACA program and was able to obtain a work permit and driver's license, which gave her peace of mind. "Work-wise, you're feeling like you're doing everything like the rest of the community, and not feeling like you're hiding something," said the young woman, whose employer is very supportive of her situation. "I can prove who I am; I'm here in a correct way."
Last week's announcement about the program was something she had feared. "I feel like I'm going through a grieving process; there are moments when I feel like I'll be fine, but some days when it's really overwhelming."
"I'm a single mom," she said, adding that her son is a U.S. citizen. "How am I going to provide for my family? (Will I have to) drive without a license to get my son to school?"
After graduating from MHS near the top of his class, the 25-year-old man was unable to afford college, and worked in low-paying jobs for several years to help support his family until the DACA Program was initiated. As soon as he was accepted, he started taking classes at COCC, where he earned honors, and then transferred to a university, where he switched to an education major, and won a scholarship.
"Since receiving DACA, I've been able to attend school full time, and live a normal life; I've been able to drive to school instead of taking the bus," he said. "I've been able to help my parents a lot, and not be afraid; when you have that in the back of your mind, you don't realize how much that weighs on you until it's gone."
Until the program was rescinded, his plan was to finish his education program in the spring of 2019 to become an English language development teacher. He still hopes that will happen.
"I'm trying to look as it from a worst case scenario — prepare for the worst, but expect the best," he said, noting that his DACA expires in November 2018. "I'm not worried about the teaching program; I contacted them and they understood."
What is worrisome is the changes he's noticed since the November election. "The climate nationally has become volatile, and it's unnerving," he said. "For the most part, since the election, I've been on this self-imposed news blackout. That's not to say I'm burying my head in the sand. I'm still aware of the efforts going on around the country."
Now, he worries about all the information he had to provide about himself and his family in order to enter the DACA Program. "At the time, it didn't seem like a big deal for what we were going to receive," he said. "Now, immigration has the list. At any moment, they can literally drive down and knock on the door."
Like the other two MHS graduates, Madras City Councilor Denise Piza was also illegally brought to the U.S. from Mexico as a small child, but became a resident at age 16 and a U.S. citizen at age 18.
"I believe that it is important for our community to come together and provide safety and security for all of our community members," said Piza. "DACA recipients are part of our community and have been for many years. For many DREAMers, the United States is the only home they know. Some are English-only speakers — some have never visited their native country since they migrated."
"DREAMers" refers to the bipartisan DREAM Act — Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act — which was first introduced by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in 2001, but has since been reintroduced several times. The DACA requirements were based on those of the DREAM Act, which would offer a path to citizenship, unlike the DACA Program.
"DACA recipients are outstanding youth who are studying, working and contributing to the betterment of our communities," Piza continued. "Five years ago, they were asked to trust their government and submit their information, pay fees and go through extensive vetting in order to qualify for the program."
"Ending DACA is a betrayal of their trust, and creates anxiety and fear in many," said Piza. "That is something that needs to be addressed and we can begin by making sure that our community is safe, welcoming and inclusive."
Greg Delgado, of Bend, who serves on the Latino Community Association's Board of Directors, is in the process of organizing a DACA preparedness and action team, that will meet at St. Francis Catholic Church, in Bend, Thursday, Sept. 21, at 6 p.m.
"I encourage everybody from Madras and Jefferson County to come in," he said. "We'll have immigration attorneys there."
"Many of the families are in fear, because their information has been given to the U.S. Immigration Service," Delgado said. "The families are feeling terrorized and victimized. It's going to take counseling to get through this."
Right after the Trump administration announced it was halting the program by March 5, 2018, and DACA recipients should prepare to "self-deport," Sen. Durbin and Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, indicated that they would like to see Congress act to pass the DREAM Act before the end of the month.
Oregon's senators also issued statements on Sept. 5.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden wrote, "This effort from the White House to punish hundreds of thousands of innocent young Americans and split apart families goes against our American values and further divides our nation."
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley promised to continue to work to help DACA recipients. "I will be fighting tooth and nail alongside my Senate colleagues to preserve the ability of these young people to continue to contribute to our country," he said. "Congress must come together and work on comprehensive immigration reform and a fair path forward for DREAMers."