DREAMers Say DACA isn’t the DREAM, but it’s a Good Step [VIDEO]
They want to be surgeons or physical therapists, they’ve lived in America for most of their lives and have supportive communities and close friends—and despite being undocumented, now they have a fighting chance to fulfill their dreams.
In Washington, DC and across the country Wednesday, immigrant rights groups such as United We Dream held events to help DREAMers, or undocumented youth who came to this country as children, apply for the Obama administration’s new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
DACA will grant DREAMers protected status and the ability to work in this country for two years, as long as they came to the United States before age 16, are under 31, have lived continuously in the United States for five years, are in or have graduated from school or have served in the military, and have no significant criminal record.
SOURCE: Emily Crockett
In a conference room in downtown DC, about 20 young people moved between three different stations at the United We Dream event: first to a computer to see if they qualified, then to a table where they received assistance assembling the necessary documents (evidence of their residency such as transcripts or medical records, plus the new government forms), and finally to speak with a pro bono attorney who would help them evaluate their options.
Many of the youth who came to the event are in college—or about to go to college, like Nataly Montano, who just graduated high school with a 4.3 GPA. She is preparing to move into her dorm at Texas Tech, where she plans to be a pre-med student.
Many also didn’t know they were undocumented until they found out they couldn’t get a driver’s license, or that they would have to pay out-of-state tuition for their in-state public universities.
“It was like we were stuck being kids,” Hareth Andrade told Campus Progress, on learning at age 15 (she's 19 now) that, like some other students at her school, she was undocumented and couldn’t get a driver’s license or passport.
Raymond Jose didn’t learn that he was undocumented until he was 17 and looking at colleges. He had been brought to America by his father from the Philippines at age 9 because his father wanted better opportunities for his children. Raymond’s sister delayed her own education so that the family could afford to send him to Montgomery Community College and study nursing.
Raymond didn’t come out about his status until college, where he met other undocumented students and joined an immigrant rights’ club on campus. “There wasn’t that need to hide in the shadows,” he said. Raymond is hopeful that he can help support his family, and pay for his own education, with the work permit he can get under DACA.
Gustavo Mariaca received a partial scholarship to play soccer at a school in Michigan, but he didn’t apply because he was afraid of the implications of his undocumented status. Now he goes to Northern Virginia Community College and is looking forward to studying physical therapy. He was joined at the United We Dream event by his brother Diego, who also wants to play soccer, and their mother, Ingrid Vaca, who came to America when she couldn’t support her family as a single mother on a teachers’ salary in Bolivia.
“I’m very proud for my kids,” said Vaca through tears. “Thank you so much to President Obama for doing this.”
While the parents of these youth could face exposure, all seem to think that the risks—and the hefty $465 fine—are worth it. “They’re willing to sacrifice themselves for us,” said Karla Clara of her parents.
Hopefully they won’t have to, though: “Our understanding is that the immigration service is not going to use this as a tool to go round up students from the process,” said Denyse Sabagh, one of the pro bono attorneys on call. One real danger, however, comes from unscrupulous attorneys who would defraud DREAMers or overcharge for the process.
Jorge Steven Acuna knows something about unscrupulous attorneys: his family accidentally hired one who got them a deportation order when they were applying for political asylum from Colombia. When the lawyer was disbarred, Jorge’s family never got the deportation letter, and earlier this year, 11 ICE agents came to their house and arrested them.
After Jorge’s friends rallied for his support using the Twitter hashtag #jsa (his initials), the family was granted a year-long reprieve. Jorge also started an immigrants rights group also called JSA—Justice for Students of America. The young group already has 30 core members and a database of thousands, and has been honored by the county and invited to conventions in numerous states.
Many of these youth are actively involved in the fight for immigrant rights, and they realize that DACA is only a temporary solution. Theoretically, they can get an extension after the first two years are up—but that will depend greatly on the political climate.
Still, they are hopeful. Nataly Montano, the high-school graduate, dreams of attending Harvard Medical School one day. In the meantime, she plans to work hard in her pre-med program, help her family financially once she gets her work permit, and do what she can to help the movement.
“This is just one step forward in the right direction,” said Nataly. “I’m hoping for the DREAM Act.”
Emily Crockett is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @emilycrockett.
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