“A status can mean everything,” says Rachel Diaz, an immigration attorney in Florida who consults with individuals on behalf of Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC’s) East Coast region. And this is true for Dmarcos, a young client. Dmarcos’ last name is withheld at his request.
People like Dmarcos, brought as children to the U.S. without legal status and known as “Dreamers,” face great obstacles to getting an education, obtaining legal employment and, eventually, beginning families of their own.
Diaz has been working with Dmarcos since he was 15, the youngest age he could apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. Young people with DACA status have received temporary but renewable permission to stay in the U.S. for two years and the opportunity to work legally.
MCC East Coast program director Andrew Bodden says, “For many Dreamers, this is the only way they can stay legally in the country, the only avenue for family income and support for education. Those with DACA status will avoid deportation to a country that most DACA recipients are not familiar with, because this country (the U.S.) is what they really know as home.”
The process of applying for DACA status can be complicated. “Helping a client understand the process tends to be the most difficult, followed closely by getting the needed supporting documentation,” says Diaz.
“We find that most of the young kids we help understand the value of having this legal status,” she states. “They all take a deep breath of relief when they get it. Living in fear and threat of deportation is not a desired way of life for anyone.”
The difficult application process became much more challenging when the federal government announced on Sept. 5 that the DACA program will be phased out starting in six months. The move shocked Dreamers like Dmarcos and puts nearly 700,000 youth and young adults at risk of deportation, loss of employment and separation from their families.
Yet even DACA recipients have no path to permanent legal status in the U.S. The Dream Act, a bill first introduced in Congress in 2001 and reintroduced this year in a similar form, would change that.
The White House recently released a set of polices it would like to see paired with this year’s Dream Act. These policies include the hiring of 10,000 additional immigration agents, more stringent border security, tougher laws for those seeking asylum, reduced immigration, denial of federal grants to “sanctuary cities” and other measures. But Dreamers and advocates, including MCC, are pushing for “clean” passage, which will provide Dreamers with a direct path to potential citizenship.
Tammy Alexander, senior legislative associate at the MCC U.S. Washington Office, says, “Passage of the Dream Act should not be tied to border security or increased immigration enforcement measures. Protecting Dreamers must not come at the cost of additional anti-immigrant measures that serve only to terrorize communities and needlessly separate families.”
Alexander emphasizes, “It is important to remember that DACA recipients are a mere fraction of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S., 60 percent of whom have been here for more than 10 years. We must work hard to protect not only Dreamers but also the millions of mothers and fathers who are in danger of being torn from their homes and their loved ones.”
Because of his DACA status and further help from Diaz as he tackled the complex process of applying for college scholarships, Dmarcos began studying architecture this fall. For now, his legal status and path to a hope-filled future continue, but under a cloud of uncertainty as the future of the DACA program remains at risk.