A young boy from Mexico travels to the United States in fourth grade to begin a new life with his parents.
Throughout his childhood in the United States, he is warned to stay away from government officials in order to protect his security. “Since I was little they were always telling me to be careful, like ‘It’s dangerous out there – you know you’re not born here. Stay away from cops, stay away from anything that’s official, that’s government,’ because I always ran that risk of being sent back.” Growing up, the boy does everything he can to try to blend into the crowd: wearing American clothes, listening to American music, and mastering English. “My parents always told me ‘Try your best to learn a new language.’ I slowly picked it up; I mastered it and I have certificates of proficiency in reading, writing, and speaking. I speak it better than my own language at points.” Regardless, blending in with the crowd doesn’t always guarantee protection from the dangers associated with being an undocumented immigrant in the U.S.
Today, this young man goes to Cogswell College.
A new program brought hope to the thousands of people who needed it, including this young man. In 2012, former President Barack Obama issued an executive order that protected the rights of undocumented people who’d come to the United States as children under 16 years old. The program grants these individuals important rights, like the right to an education, the right to work and live in the United States, and even the right to a driver’s license, all without being an officially documented citizen. This program is known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. “Because I got DACA, I was able to get a social security number, which allowed me to build credit. I recently bought a car, so it allowed me to buy that. And I’ve been able to just, you know, be more free outside and not be afraid.” He could renew his DACA status every two years.
Like our student, most DACA applicants arrived in the United States with their parents when they were very young, and have depended on this program for many years to protect them from deportation as undocumented citizens.
Unfortunately, DACA has its limits, many of which have to do with the struggle involved in creating DACA in the first place. President Obama originally planned for DACA to be a piece of legislation, but it was turned down by Congress and faced opposition from many states. Consequently, DACA does not provide any pathway to eventual citizenship for its recipients, and prevents them from receiving many of the benefits associated with being a citizen. This affects all recipients, but poses a particular financial problem for college students. Our student says, ”As of right now the biggest issue is scholarships, because for scholarships you have to be a citizen. There’s a very limited number that are not for citizens, and those get filled up very quickly and have very difficult requirements to meet.” Today’s college students know the importance of receiving money to fund their education – but those protected by DACA lack critical access to numerous scholarship opportunities that they might otherwise qualify for.
Despite its limits, DACA is still an important program for thousands of people living in the United States. However, last September the current administration attempted to eliminate the DACA program. This meant DACA recipients (“Dreamers”) would no longer be protected by the government after their previous renewal expires, starting this month.
Unless new legislation that protected undocumented citizens was passed before the March 5, 2018 deadline, it was thought that thousands of former Dreamers would be asked to leave the country once their status expired. Our student said, “I’ve been building my life here, you know? I do everything that I can, but even right now, even though I have DACA, it expires in 2019 and I’m not sure I’ll be able to renew it again... What’s going to happen to the life I’ve built here after I’m no longer protected?”
Even though polls indicate that more than three quarters of the country’s population supports DACA, or some form of legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers, the majority of Republican lawmakers do not. And last September, the Department of Homeland Security announced that Dreamers whose permits expired by March 5, who had not applied to renew their DACA status by October 5, would lose their protection. Our student was rightfully concerned: “I would hope they keep the program or make another version of the program and make it more specific for students, because I know there’s hundreds of thousands of people like me that are in college, and we want to finish college, and we want to get a job out of all this work.”
Luckily, these 800,000 people find themselves under protection by the government once again. Regardless of the expiration deadline for DACA, a federal judge ruled that cancellation of the program was illegal as it was based on a “flawed legal premise that the agency lacked authority to implement DACA.” President Trump's administration sought to appeal the ruling, but the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal, which means DACA recipients can still renew their status, and remain protected.
People in communities around the country, however, are still afraid – and confused as to why the government would try to cease protection of people who have lived in the United States since childhood. “It’s like this country really just doesn’t want us here anymore for some reason,” says the student. “I don’t see myself as being bad for this country, and I do everything a normal citizen would do. I try to not do anything bad.” These Dreamers could be your friends, neighbors, and classmates. They have built their lives here thanks to DACA. “They just want to be able to be here. I would hope [a new program] gets through," he says.
Although Dreamers are safe for awhile longer, Donald Trump has promised to “revisit DACA.” The question is whether or not Congress will try to eliminate DACA again. Some believe that the Supreme Court’s decision will discourage Congress from another attempt at eliminating the program, especially since the majority of the nation still supports keeping it. In fact, it’s possible Congress will come up with a better solution that protects the nearly 800,000 people who depend on DACA. Our student concludes: “I know there’s a lot of people out there who are in my situation, and while it’s scary sometimes it’s better to just try to live as much, try to roll with everybody as much as possible and hope that something better will happen in the future.”