California Dreamersby Brie Stimson November 2, 2017
President Trump decided to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) on Sept. 5, and since then there has been a lot of confusion and apprehension in the Dreamer community.
“It was presented on June 15, 2012 as an executive action from the administration of Obama,” immigration specialist for Jewish Family Service (JFS) Linda Feldman, told me. “For those people that qualify it provides them protection from deportation, and it also provides them a work authorization. That way they can get a social security card, pay taxes, work legally and, depending on the state, that’s the way for them to get a driver’s license.”
Jewish Family Service, a nonprofit that among its many services helps refugees, has been working with Dreamers for years, and when Trump made the announcement at the beginning of September, they held renewal workshops and counseled Dreamers on their various options.
“I think it’s been almost three years if not longer,” JFS CEO Micheal Hopkins said of their work with Dreamers. “We got some funding from donors in our community who thought it was a very important piece of work to do. We, like the donors, viewed the dreamers as part of our community.”
A Dreamer I spoke to (who preferred to remain anonymous) said DACA has given him a sense of security.
“DACA has helped me by taking away certain limitations I had before like allowing me to get a driver’s license with a social security number and the appointment authorization card. I was able to look for a job … which opens up a lot of other possibilities as well.”
Feldman explained that only a specific set of people qualify for DACA in the first place. “They must have arrived and started living in the US by June 15, 2007,” she said. “They have to have been under 15, they have to have been physically present in the United States by June 15, 2012 and they can’t have any exits of the country after August 15, 2012. If somebody has one felony, one significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors they’re barred from DACA.”
The Dreamer I spoke to came to the United States from Mexico when he was six and said he barely remembers his home country.
“[Before DACA] I felt ‘lesser than’ in a way like I didn’t really belong here. I didn’t have the same rights as everyone else. That there were too many limitations on me like why couldn’t I just be like everyone else?”
He said Trump’s Sept. 5 revocation left a lot of room for uncertainty and anxiety for Dreamers.
“It was stressful. It made me freak out in a way like ‘oh no, what’s going to happen?”
Hopkins understands. “We were helping [Dreamers] apply in general [before] and looking at all their paperwork and making sure that they were doing it correctly,” he said. “There were many folks who were concerned about whether applying would have negative implications for their parents who were here as undocumented citizens, so beyond just filling out a form for some it was just helping them walk thorough the process and the pros and cons.”
Our Dreamer said he sent his application in after the deadline and thinks he’s not qualified to renew anymore, but he sent it in anyway.
“It doesn’t hurt in trying, more than likely it would be rejected, but just in case it doesn’t, I attempted it,” he told me. “If it’s rejected more than likely I have to seek legal counsel to see what other options are available to me. Worst comes to worst I would probably be moving back to my home country.”
Feldman said she believes Dreamers are not the only beneficiaries of the program. “It has pumped up the economy,” she explained. “People have been doing their taxes, and it has created a higher educated and harder working youth. In general, I believe pretty much everybody benefits from DACA.”
Still, both she and our Dreamer see it as a temporary solution. “The administration … said that during these six months they expect Congress to either offer an alternative to DACA or change the law because Congress is the one who is supposed to change or make immigration law,” she explained.
Our Dreamer agreed DACA opened opportunities for him, “but ultimately it would be a better solution [for] new legislation to pass in favor of people like myself,” he said.
But he does worry about the “worst case scenario.” He said he hasn’t traveled back to Mexico in years. “I don’t really know what to expect over there,” he told me. “I don’t even really have any idea what it’s like over there, you know?”
For Hopkins, JFS’s mission is clear. “For most of our refugee work we really are moved by the notion of just welcoming the stranger,” he said. “We were once strangers. But with DACA actually – in Leviticus it says when a stranger resides with you in your land you shall not wrong him, and it actually goes on and says the stranger that resides with you shall be as one of your citizens and you shall love him for yourself … So the [Dreamers] are really strangers who reside within our land, and they need to be treated like they’re one of us.”
For now the Dreamers must wait. Wait to see what Congress will do. Wait to see if their application is renewed.
And, if he had the chance, this is what our Dreamer would say to Trump: “I would say if there are others like me where they grew up here since they were children they basically are a part of this society and they’ve tried to make the most of it,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of them work here. I’m sure a lot of them study here, and they’re just trying to lead a normal life … like the other people that they know … who don’t have to deal with not having any legal permanence here in the United States. They just want to be included in the society, you know…completely.”