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DACA in the Supreme Court: the impact on undocumented youth

Ada Marys Lorenzana  |  Issue: March 2020
Dreamer demonstrating for immigrant rights

New Orleans—The sign ‘Here to stay’ reflects the sentiment of many Dreamers.
PHOTO: TED QUANT

 

It can be difficult to grasp what 700,000 people all have in common. A sous-chef worries how he will be able to support his wife and baby. A UPS driver worries about losing a stable income. A college student wonders how truly valuable her degree will be after college. As different as these backgrounds are, all these people feel as if everything is at risk. This is the reality for DACA (Deferred Action for childhood arrivals) recipients today.

Trump’s decision to rescind DACA has left recipients of the program questioning their future in the country more than ever. For many, the program opened doors to new opportunities like professional careers, an education, a stable income, and the feeling of belonging. But DACA was only meant to be a temporary solution. Now the debate over the legality of the program has finally made its way to the Supreme Court. While no one knows how the justices will decide, people have spread awareness at just how truly vital DACA is to many. Families, employers, universities and various organizations all rely on DACA’s existence and that just might be what saves the program.

When DACA was implemented in 2012, Luis was one of the first people eligible to apply. He started working as a dishwasher and worked his way up to becoming a line cook. Today, he is a sous-chef in one of Chicago’s best restaurants. A work permit has allowed him to pursue this career, but the threat of it being taken away leaves his future uncertain. Not only is speaking of legal status anxiety-inducing to applicants, but it is an insult to threaten them with taking it away. In order to receive DACA in the first place, applicants have to fill out a lengthy application, pass a background check, and pay a fee of $495 every two years (an amount that may increase to $765). The possible termination of DACA threatens the livelihood of recipients and in Luis’s case, threatens his career and puts his family in financial risk.

Prior to DACA, finding a job with a stable income was not accessible to undocumented immigrants. For many, it still isn’t. Armando, however, was hired as a UPS driver and has since been able to maintain a job with great pay and benefits. Aside from access to financial security, DACA was able to create a sense of belonging for him. Growing up undocumented meant fearing his parents might be taken away in a police encounter. Meanwhile, classmates shouted “¡La migra! ¡La migra!” as a joke at school. As a teenager, he was denied the opportunity even to think beyond high school. Many high school counselors back then, and today, are ill-equipped to handle the unique needs of undocumented students. Things like study abroad, filling out FAFSA, and applying to scholarships were out of the question for students like Armando. Instead of seeking more resources for undocumented students, many counselors and teachers were quick to give up.

While the education system has improved on being more attentive to the needs of undocumented students, there is still a lot of work to be done. Karen, a recent college transfer student, spoke of feeling disheartened because of her status. After years of studying, working, and training, Karen was finally able to secure a scholarship to attend a four-year university. Karen was able to find support at her community college but finding scholarships for undocumented immigrants and many students is still a difficult task. Now at her new college, she worries if her degree will even be worth anything after graduation. Without a work permit, a college degree will not be enough for her to become an occupational therapist for children with disabilities.

After speaking to all three recipients, they all had the same question: Why is the government doing this? It is cruel to give hope to more than 700,000 people only to later threaten them with losing everything. DACA recipients are worthy of a pathway to citizenship not because of their economic contribution but because of their humanity. They are our neighbors and part of our communities. It is also important to remember that they are only a micro group in the population of immigrants. Parents of DACA recipients, youth ineligible for DACA, and undocumented immigrants of all backgrounds are all worthy of living fearlessly.

In choosing to not pass a comprehensive immigration reform, politicians have shown that they do not care that the lives of millions remain uncertain. The Trump administration has used undocumented youth as a bargaining chip, but they are not the first administration to keep undocumented immigrants waiting for a stable future. Immigration reform is long overdue and until something permanent happens, individuals like Luis, Armando, and Karen will continue to live by deadlines and uncertainty.

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