By Laura Vazquez, Senior Immigration Legislative Analyst, NCLR
Two years ago today, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for undocumented youth who have grown up in the United States. Lines of young people formed across the country to apply for temporary relief from deportation and for work permits. In Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and other cities, young people filed into NCLR Affiliates and other community-based organizations to receive help in filling out the newly released applications. We’re wrapping up this week by telling the stories of those who have applied for and received DACA.
More than 500,000 people have received DACA, and with it, the ability to work and continue contributing to communities across the country. While DACA is not the permanent solution that is needed, it is an important protection from deportation and recognition that people who have grown up in this country can contribute even more if they are able to continue their education and put their talents to use.
DACA recipients have unique stories to tell of their application experience and what it has meant for them, but one thing that is noticeable in hearing their stories is that there is a physical transformation in the people when they get to a certain point in their story. When they describe that they received the notice in the mail and when they saw their social security number, they break out in a smile. You can see that a weight has been lifted. And I have seen that when people describe that they applied for a driver’s license or a state ID, they stand a little taller—they seem a little more confident or assertive as they describe that they feel that they belong. They now have official recognition that they are part of the communities they have called home. Katherine, a student in Maryland, told us, “I always felt like an outsider throughout my elementary and high school career. I am not sure if it was shame or fear that held me back from fully integrating to the ‘American life,’ but in the back of my head I felt different from everyone else.” DACA has been transformative for her and she states, “DACA gave me hope to continue fighting for my dreams in the United States.”
At the 2014 NCLR Annual Conference, I met Jessica, who told her story of growing up in California. She had arrived as a child from Mexico and began kindergarten in California. Her father told her to work hard in school because no one could take her education away from her, and she did. It wasn’t until she reached high school, like many other DREAMers, that she learned she was undocumented. Soon after, school became less important to her. She said, “What’s the point of getting a degree if I don’t have a social [security number]? Who’s going to hire me?” But her father continued to believe in her and urged her to continue her education. It was her father who recommended she apply for DACA. Jessica and her sister applied, and in the video below, she describes what it was like to have her application accepted and the happiness in realizing that she was going to have a California ID. DACA allowed her to realize that she could work to achieve her dream of managing a business in the fashion industry; DACA motivated her: “I want to do something with my life.” Like Jessica, her sister Nadia is also working on her studies so that she can achieve her dream of becoming a civil engineer.
There is much more work to be done to ensure that people who are eligible for DACA can come forward and apply. Now more than ever, we need President Obama to exercise a legitimate use of his executive authority to expand relief and limit senseless deportations in order to keep hardworking aspiring Americans together with their families and in the communities where they have been contributing.