It’s no secret that America’s new president built his campaign on open xenophobia. Donald Trump has perpetuated a false narrative of undocumented migrants as “criminals” and “rapists,” pledged to build a border wall, promised mass deportations, and threatened to end any protections Obama created, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The Obama administration launched DACA in 2012 as a way for young undocumented people, many of whom have been in the U.S. for the majority of their lives, to apply for temporary protection from deportation, usually in order to continue their education or work. Although many colleges accept undocumented students, DACA makes higher education much more attainable.
As a DACA recipient — or a Dreamer, for short — you also can get a social security number, which makes means you can apply for scholarships and loans, as well as work (and pay taxes). You can get a driver’s license and the personal freedoms and work opportunities that come with driving. You can get access to healthcare. You can travel out of the country to study abroad or visit family in crisis. You can get into venues that card at the door. In other words, you can have access to the kind of life many documented people take for granted.
DACA is not a perfect piece of legislation. It offers no pathway to citizenship or permanent protections, which worries the hundreds of thousands of people who had to come forward about their undocumented status in order to apply. Once you have it, it’s still only temporary: you need to renew every two years. Further, by only making deferrals available to youth who have completed high school or are enrolled in school, and who have no criminal record, DACA distinguishes between “deserving” and “undeserving” immigrants.
However, it has had a material impact on hundreds of thousands of people, and its repeal would throw those lives into crisis. Amongst those helping people wade through their concerns are New York Student Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC), an advocacy organization and scholarship fund run by undocumented youth, and Make the Road, an organization that helps working-class communities access housing, healthcare, and education, and advocates for policies that support immigrant and QPOC New Yorkers. With their help, The FADER spoke to five people about the opportunities DACA has facilitated in their lives and the way things stand to change if Trump gets his way.
Community organizer at NYSYLC
I’m undocumented. I’m also queer; I like to say that for visibility. Prior to DACA, I was not involved in any activism. I was in denial that I was undocumented for a long time. In high school, [someone from NYSYLC] approached me to join and I was like, “No, that’s insane, why are you telling people your status? You’re gonna get deported.” Shaming the person for being active and speaking about it. But after finding out the Obama administration was paying attention to undocumented youth, I realized it matters that we’re vocal and that we’re visible.
I started going to NYSYLC events really quietly. My dad and I went to an info session about DACA and it was the first time we saw other undocumented folks — a room full of different backgrounds, ethnicities. It was so beautiful to see parents and their kids and all these lawyers telling us the good and bad about DACA, including the possibilities [it offered for] traveling abroad.
My dad turned to me and was like, “It would be great if you could go and visit your grandparents, for even two hours.” And that stuck with me for a very long time — his need for me to have a document that could let me do “normal things.”
I remember not wanting to apply because I thought it was all a joke — they were tricking us, their whole thing was to get information and then deport us. My biggest fear was them finding information about my parents because I was living with them at the time. But my dad was like, “What about you? This is something you need.” After a couple of months he convinced me. We paid a lot of money — $1,000 for the lawyer — to get the process going. And we did it; I got DACA.
[Now] I’m the community organizer here at the NYSYLC. All our staff are undocumented, [and] our whole membership is made up of undocumented immigrants and families. My job entails going out to the community, meeting students, [going] anywhere there’s undocumented students and building school clubs we call Dream Teams, where they support each other and build leadership and advocate for their rights in that space.
We’ve thought about [the possibility of DACA being repealed] for a really long time — before Trump even stepped up to running for president. [DACA] was always really temporary. I think that’s a very important lesson for us in the immigrant rights movement — not to fight for temporary solutions, [but] to fight for long-term solutions that can’t be taken away.
We’ve already given so much to this country that never wanted us. And I’m not one to sit here and say that I want the U.S. to want me because I’m already over it. But DACA also gave me the opportunity to visit my family in Mexico for the first time in 20 years. That comment my dad made stayed with me and that became my whole goal — to visit my grandparents. A lot of our members are traveling abroad right now to visit their families because they don’t know when the next time will be — or if it will be on their own terms. And with that comes a lot of mental health issues because we’re not prepared to talk about what is happening.
But something that we always know is we’re resilient. We were always able to work somehow before DACA, but it’s not the same now. People have bought houses. There are a lot of things weighing on us.
I was born in Mexico City, [and] I came here when I was 15 to live with my brother and sister. I came here not to do school, but to work. We lived together for a year and then everybody split. I was a delivery guy for many years until I met my wife. She’s Polish [and] white so her family didn’t accept me because of my being Hispanic and uneducated. Going to college was never something I thought about, [but] she really pushed me to get an education.
I got my GED in the summer of 2011. We married in 2012. When they announced DACA, I couldn’t even believe that they would do such a thing for undocumented kids. I felt that Obama was like, “Here. Have a little shot.” It’s not like we get a lot, but it does help.
Trump’s about to take office soon and [we’re thinking about] what’s gonna happen. Is he gonna end the DACA program? That would be stupid because that’s taxpayer money. 750,000 DACA people in the system contribute to the economy. If he ends it I would feel robbed because I pay taxes. I’m paying roughly 10k every year because I’m self-employed. I don’t have insurance; I don’t have many things. All I do is pay taxes and go to school and go to work.
I feel like [immigrants] contribute a lot. We’re doctors, we’re lawyers. We’re people in technology. It’s not like we’re taking from the system. We’re contributing, which makes DACA work. Otherwise, why would they need such a program? The government has enough expenses.
I just graduated with my associate degree in computer information systems and transferred to City Tech to pursue my Bachelor’s degree. It’s hard but I get something out of it, and that’s the education. At first I didn’t take education very seriously because I never had it but now it’s opened my mind; it made me do things that I couldn’t do before. I’m proud of that.
[Trump] can take DACA, he can take my driver’s license, my social security number, but he’s not going to take my education.
Student [and Make the Road New York member]
[In June 2012,] I remember hearing news early in the morning that Obama was going to make an announcement in the afternoon that had to do with immigration. I looked it up and was like, ok, I pretty much fit the requirements. I wasn’t sure if I should apply or not because I kept hearing that they can deny you without giving you a reason why. [It felt like] raising a red flag to the government, saying, “Hi, I’m here and I’m undocumented.”
I hesitated but my parents said to go ahead. My dad was like, “Something is something.” That’s his thing.
[With DACA,] I was able to get a job and fund my own education and help my family out. You hit your early 20s and you want to stop asking your parents for money.
One of the big [benefits of DACA] was getting my driver’s license. I know in New York City you don’t need a car because we have public transportation everywhere, but just having that little card meant something to me. Before [that], I had my college ID but it wasn’t accepted everywhere because it’s not a state ID.
In a sense, DACA gave me more of a sense of belonging. If my friends wanted to go out before, I would have to make up an excuse or say I don’t want to go, because what if they ask for an ID and I don’t have one? To avoid all that I would just not go out. DACA gave me a little bit more confidence to go out, a little more independence.
This upcoming semester will be my last one [in college]. But now Trump comes into office in a few days and my DACA expires in March. I just sent my second renewal and am waiting to hear back. I don’t graduate until May. There’s that uncertainty I feel — how is my life going to change? Am I still going to be able to drive? What’s going to happen after graduation? That’s the limbo I’m in. It’s in the back of my head and I try not to think about it but it’s there.
If DACA is taken away I’m not going to lose my confidence, I’m not going to lose my independence; I’m going to fight. Not just for DACA but for our families. DACA is a step in the right direction but it’s not everything. DACA left out a lot of people — maybe they were older than the [cutoff] or they came a few months after their 16th birthday, but they’ve been here for so many years. There’s still a lot that needs to be done.
Student and NYSLC scholarship recipient
I was born in Mexico City. I was brought to the U.S. when I was two years old. I was raised mainly on Staten Island, New York. Been here all my life, never left. Grew up here, raised here, my whole childhood, everything.
During high school I didn’t know much about my status. It turns out I didn’t have a social status, which caused a lot of trouble for me. There was no motivation to graduate if you don’t have a social [security number]. I was surrounded by a lot of negativity. Freshman year wasn’t the best, sophomore year wasn’t the best, but I was always encouraged to stay away from law enforcement so I never got in trouble.
When DACA came out [in 2012], I was eligible, had all the paperwork done; it was pretty easy. Basically once I hit 16, I got DACA. Right there and then, I [started] work and never stopped working. I have experience in fast food restaurants, restaurants in general, I’ve worked at UPS. I worked for the Department of Education during my high school years — I was a computer technician. Having DACA has made me open up in different fields. I help out at the Immigrant Center on Staten Island in my free time. In school I’m involved with the Dreamers Club, I manage their media. Right now I’m in the [hiring] process with a non-profit organization — I will be working for the Center for Human Development and Family Services as a waiver service provider. I’ll be working with kids with disabilities — going to a kid’s house, working with them, helping with homework, be big brother, build a friendship.
If the new administration takes away DACA, it will have a big impact on me. I was able to get a credit loan, credit cards, I invested in a car; everything is under my name. I was able to get a license, move up in life, what I consider the “American dream.” It’s crazy that everything can be taken away. I always considered myself an American, but I wasn’t officially an American. Coming from Staten Island, people don’t see it the way I do. If you look at the voter turnout, most of Staten Island voted for the new president-elect. It wasn’t so shocking but it was just, why are people so angry?
Student [and Make the Road New York member]
I was one of the first to apply for DACA in 2012. I received it and keep renewing — this is my second or third time renewing. When I started college I was going part-time. DACA granted me a social security number, which also gave me the opportunity to apply for scholarships, which helps me continue my education. I’m also working on the books at a homeless shelter. DACA also granted me the opportunity to study abroad in Spain. It was one of the best opportunities in my life.
If DACA ended up being revoked, it would be harder. We don’t know what the outcome will be. We don’t know if [Trump] is going to use our info on the database to come to our houses. It puts us at risk. Without DACA I don’t know if I’ll be able to continue with my job or education. Even though CUNY has come out as a sanctuary campus [a resolution taken by some university to protect undocumented students, staff, and faculty from investigation and deportation], it’s not complete. DACA never guaranteed my status but we never knew that [its potential repeal] was gonna happen at this type of momentum.
The best support is to support each other. It affects you psychologically — at the beginning [of having DACA], you feel like you have everything, but at this point, you feel like you have nothing. Just by talking to one another, trying to support one another, it’s helpful.
If you’d like to support DACA recipients and other undocumented migrants, please consider donating to or volunteering with grassroots undocumented-led organizations such as Make the Road and NYSYLC in New York; 67 Sueños and E4FC in California; and United We Dream or Cosecha on a national level.
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