Trump says no deal has been reached on DACA, the scheme that protects the children of undocumented immigrants – what would its end means for young Americans?
On September 5, Trump tweeted “Congress, get ready to do your job – DACA!”, heavily implying that he was planning to abolish the program in aid of illegal immigrants that came to the US as children. DACA, which stands for Deferred Actions of Childhood Arrivals, was an executive order set in place by Obama in 2012 that allows children who were brought into the US illegally by their parents to remain in the country. The recipients of DACA, also known as “Dreamers”, can obtain work permits, but there are restrictions: they cannot have serious criminal histories, and must have arrived before 2007 under the age of 16. It isn’t a permanent status, and must be renewed every two years, but it gives them a chance to lawfully build a life in the US.
No deal was made last night on DACA. Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent. Would be subject to vote.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017
In June, a group of ten state attorneys general set September 5 as a deadline to end DACA. In a letter, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote that if DACA wasn’t ended by then, he would “amend the complaint in the case against the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) to include DACA”. It appears that Trump was under pressure from government officials to make this decision immediately. However, it comes as no surprise that Trump isn’t taking an opposing stance – after spending the majority of his campaign trail antagonising immigrants, spouting inflammatory bullshit about that fucking wall, and promising to “prioritise Americans”, it almost seems like DACA had been in jeopardy the second he took the oath. After all, DACA is an executive order, which means it can be easily reversed by the President – and who else would it be but this president? Trump and his administration have now put nearly 800,000 people at risk of unfair deportation, due to this simple fact: he doesn’t value them as Americans.
This issue, in particular, hits close to home. Both of my parents are Latinx immigrants, who were lucky enough to emigrate legally to New York in the late 80s, before I was born in Florida. However, my cousin Andrea, who is a DACA recipient, can’t say the same for herself – she was brought to the US as a 2-year-old child by my aunt, who overstayed her legal travel visa. The sociopolitical chaos of living in Caracas, Venezuela – one of the most dangerous cities in the world – was beginning to threaten their immediate safety, and the incumbent Hugo Chavez showed no intention of changing that. In short: if they didn’t leave Venezuela, they would most likely die. And this is the case for many Latinx immigrants.
“I’ve already struggled with identity issues my entire life. I’ve always felt very American because this country is the only one I know, but because I’m brown and Latina, people perceive me differently, like I’m not one of them. I’ve had to work twice as hard to get where I am”
My cousin met the criteria to apply to DACA and was granted it. Since then, she’s graduated from high school and is now in college studying to be a nurse, like any other average American. “When I saw the official government statement about wanting to scrap DACA, my heart completely sank. I had a huge panic attack and even considered just dropping out of school, despite only being ten months away from being a fully trained nurse, just because I knew they wouldn’t even bother giving me a chance at legal residency,” Andrea tells me. Since leaving Caracas, Andrea has never been back to visit; in fact, she doesn’t remember life there, or even has a good grasp of the Spanish language. She is an American through and through.
“I’ve already struggled with identity issues my entire life. I’ve always felt very American because this country is the only one I know, but because I’m brown and Latina, people perceive me differently, like I’m not one of them. I’ve had to work twice as hard to get where I am, and now the reversal of DACA is only cementing the truth of the notion I’ve tried to get past my entire life: anti-immigration culture and racism ruins lives.” As for her future, everything is up in the air, just like the hundreds of thousands of other Dreamers who grew up having the same American education and the same capacity to succeed, now being cut short because of where they were born.
Speaking to another Dreamer, Juan DeSantiago, he mentions that even as a DACA recipient, there are still unimaginable hurdles you have to get past. He arrived in Georgia as a one-year-old with his family who, similarly to my aunt and cousin, were fleeing dangerous living conditions and overstayed a legal travel visa. He was granted DACA in 2013 after a lengthy process because he had a clean criminal record, unlike some of his friends who were rejected for misdemeanours.
“I think the most common misconception about DACA is that people think it gives recipients the same benefits as citizens, but it doesn’t,” he tells me. “The main one is that I’m not eligible for any federal aid for my education. I graduated high school in the top 10 per cent of my class with honours, and then got accepted into the prestigious Vanderbilt University in Nashville, but wasn’t able to attend because it’s so expensive. If I was a citizen I could have easily got a full ride scholarship based on excelling in school.” Now, he works full time just to pay an out of state tuition – despite being a Georgia resident – just for being undocumented. The hardship faced by Dreamers, even with their benefits in full tow, are seemingly only going to become harder with Congress preparing to scrap the program.
“If they want want me and the other 800,000 Dreamers gone, then they’re going to have to put up with our resistance first. This is our home, too”
As of now, the future is unclear for Dreamers. Trump has urged Congress to develop a solution in the next six months before the program ends. As of July 31, there were almost 800,000 Dreamers who had registered with the government since the program was introduced. Nobody knows exactly what happens next – as DACA will be phased out slowly, nobody knows their fate. It’s unclear whether they will be turned over to immigration services, still be allowed to still legally obtain work permits, or offered any opportunity to legally stay in the country they’ve called home for most of their lives.
The only thing we can do now is stay vocal, engaged and fight for the rights of the Dreamers by signing letters to Congress, contacting your senator, and even calling state-level offices if you live in the US. It’s up to us to protect the lives and futures of some of the most marginalised people in our society. As for my cousin Andrea, she is continuing her education and preparing herself for whatever the outcome will be. “At first, I was totally petrified and debilitated, and I still am, but I’m not going to put my life on hold for an administration that would rather see me dead in my birth country than see me contributing to our society in the US. If they want want me and the other 800,000 Dreamers gone, then they’re going to have to put up with our resistance first. This is our home, too.”