Since 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, has offered certain protections to undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children. Through DACA, over 200,000 young immigrants in California gained legal access to driver's licenses, college enrollment, and employment.
Today, there's a lot of uncertainty for DACA recipients. Last month, the Trump administration announced their plan to phase out the Obama-era program by next March, and that today would be the last day to renew their status.
There are efforts in Congress to pass an immigration bill that would provide permanent, legal status for DACA recipients but in a politically divided climate, and with so much in flux around immigration policy, how are DACA recipients and their families planning for the future?
To find out, Take Two's A Martinez hosted a roundtable of three DACA recipients raised in Southern California.
Since the White House announced the eventual end of DACA, Yael's sense of fear has increased "ten times more."
I feel more fearful about being undocumented. It’s a reality that’s hit me in the face. The fear that I grew up with as a child, it increased by like, ten times more…. A terrible sense of panic and anxiety. I don’t know what direction my life is going. I think it’s difficult enough being in your early twenties. But now, with the end of DACA, I don’t know if I were to enroll into a graduate program, what will happen in 2018 when my DACA ends? If I don’t get a job, how am I going to pay for that graduate program? And so, the instability of my life has really changed my plans for the future and for my career.
The end of DACA has made her think twice about who she tells about her status.
That whole slogan, ‘undocumented and unafraid,’ I’ve taken a step back from it – maybe half a step – just because I’m more aware and more wary of who I do tell my status to. I refrain more from telling people who are white just because honestly... when I see a white person, it’s kind of like, do they hate me? Are they willing to commit some sort of atrocity against me and that actually puts me into a lot of fear…? You don’t know who is so against people of color so that’s a very big fear that I think a lot of us share, unfortunately.
Regardless of whether I’m afraid or not, I need to continue to tell my story just because by telling my story – maybe I’m the first undocumented person that they know, so that will raise their awareness and their empathy towards undocumented people and people of color in general.
Yael isn't willing to settle for less than comprehensive reform.
As we’ve seen in 2009 and 2010 when the Democrats had power of the Senate and the House, no steps were taken. And so now, we see the Democrats saying, oh well the Republicans have control of the government and of Congress, and so there’s nothing that we can do. But, in reality, they’ve had control and power in the past decade, and nothing, nothing has been done for the 11-million-plus undocumented immigrants. So, if a comprehensive immigration reform is not passed, I would not be willing to sign up for that.
Vlad Stoicescu Ghica
Vlad is a masters student in the school of public policy at UC Berkeley. He received his DACA status in 2013.
Now that Vlad is facing a future without DACA protections, he has to rethink his long-term plans.
When I initially received my DACA, I was still an undergraduate student at UCLA and I was struggling very much to pay bills at home, to pay for tuition, to pay for books, to pay for meals everyday. And being able to work part time the way I did with my DACA, it allowed me to really begin taking control of my life and to make ends meet. So that was hugely impactful to me.
And I also began making a long term plan for myself; working, pursuing a graduate degree, driving a car, renting an apartment – these were all things that were very feasible when you have DACA. I’m now in a position where I have to reconsider my long-term plan.
Vlad's worried that DACA protections could be leveraged against other immigrants, like his mother.
My big concern is that a big comprehensive push right now would actually come out against a lot of people. That those of us who have DACA would be kind of put on this pedestal and everyone else would be left behind. And we’d be used as a bargaining chip for more enforcement.
He's prepared to keep advocating, even if he has to do it without his family.
That’s really more coming from this idea that if I see something wrong, I think the right thing to do is to fight back against it and to try to change it. So, I think I would want to go back to Romania but instead I would want to stay here where I grew up even if my family members were taken away. I think what they would want me to do is to make that sacrifice that they’ve made worth it. And to try to organize and to do work here in order to change the thing that did that damage.
It’s been over four years since a comprehensive immigration reform bill was on the table. We’ve been in this limbo status of DACA for a number of years. But it was always with the promise of, something’s coming… meanwhile, we saw deportations really escalate under the Obama administration. We saw the Trump campaign really take root and take shape. In that sense I want to say I’m pessimistic because things have been intransigent for a very, very long time. And it might not seem like that on the outside but with regards to our personal lives, and our personal status shifting, nothing has really been on the table for a long time.
But the optimism in me comes from this idea that people are starting to take notice again. We are in a position now – if we all continue to do the work, and to share our stories, and to organize within our communities – to begin this conversation again around the justice that needs to take place in undocumented communities here in the United States. And things that go beyond just those of us who are impacted by this immediate DACA decision.
Jose works with the Food Chain Workers Alliance. He received his DACA status in 2014.
Living without DACA will mean returning to a former way of life.
To me, I’ve been undocumented my whole life, so I’m not scared of going back into the undocumented life. I do have to say, I enjoyed my DACA like everybody else did.
Jose is worried that a bill from Congress would mean leaving his parents' generation behind.
I feel like they’re focusing on the dreamer mentality and they’re only trying to support those who have DACA. It’s not just the folks who have DACA. It’s the 11 million undocumented families that are in the United States. So, I really don’t support any of them until they start supporting every undocumented person. I feel like my parents were the original dreamers. They had a dream. They came to the United States. A lot of people are throwing them under the bus because they’re saying they did something illegal by bringing us here, but they actually are the folks that we should be focusing on.
I feel like this band-aid stopped a lot of us from organizing because we were living our lives, and we totally forgot about our families. And now it’s time to make sure that they don’t get left behind. And we need to put something that will focus on all the undocumented folks.
Wherever Jose's family has to go, he will go with them.
I could not stay and let my family go back. If that was the choice – they were going to deport my whole family – I would go and deport myself to Mexico, where I was born, and start organizing there to make sure that this doesn’t happen.
Ultimately, Jose believes that with enough engagement, they can change immigration policy.
I organize with an organization called DREAM Team Los Angeles. When DACA was announced, a lot of our DTLA members started disappearing. And I’ve seen now, a new wave of… people trying to organize. If we continue to organize… having civil disobedience… fighting for what’s right, we will get what we want.