by Michael C. Bohn
“I learned how to ride a bike here. I went to school here. My first kiss was here!” Twenty-year-old DACA recipient and City College freshman Jose Martinez laughed. “I was born in El Salvador but the United States is my home.”
For many, citizenship is more than a legal document.
“It’s things like that that are so simple, but truly the experience of being an American… it just so happens my passport doesn’t say I’m an American and my birth certificate doesn’t say I was born in America, but I feel just as proud of America as you do.”
Jose had come on a sunny afternoon to the crowded, windowless, one-room office of the CCNY Immigration Center seeking information. (https://www.ccny.cuny.edu/we-are-one-ccny/city-college-immigration-center)
Enzo Soderini, Senior Paralegal, helps the students and projected warmth and compassion. A steady stream of worried young Dreamers needed his help. “We are very busy,” he confided.
Many who have received DACA( https://www.uscis.gov/)status are still fearful, reluctant to speak, but Jose was eager to tell his story, grateful to anyone would listen.
“Once that program came out it was kind of like we came out of a dark tunnel because we were hidden in the shadows. And it made me believe that the American Dream still exists. So now that DACA is coming to an end very soon I feel like I have to go back to where I was and I don’t wanna be back to that stage any more, back into the shadows.”
On September 5th, 2017, President Trump, citing the need for Congress to act on the issue, had Attorney General Jeff Sessions deliver the news that DACA would end, phased out over the next two-and-a-half years.
President Obama issued an Executive Order in 2012 creating DACA after Congress failed to act on immigration reform. While it is only one piece of the debate, it was an attempt to address one of least controversial portions of the immigration debate. Most Republicans, Democrats and Americans agree that those too young to have had any part in their presence here should not be penalized, and should be given a path toward citizenship.
Eight hundred thousand so-called Dreamers are currently enrolled in the program, and nearly 42,000 in New York State alone.
They are everywhere. Sitting next to you in class or at work. It could be the nice young man selling you shoes, as Jose does when he is not in school holding down five classes this semester. “I’m just grateful that people are interested in my experience,” he said.
Jose arrived here from El Salvador with his mother in 2001 when he was three years old. “If DACA ends he could be forced to live in a country that he does not remember. “My heart and mind will be here in America but my body will be there,” he said.
Jose is an American history buff. He is a fan of founding fathers Ben Franklin and fellow immigrant Alexander Hamilton. He has faith in the ideals expressed by the founding fathers, ideas that fueled hopes for freedom around the world. Young Dreamers like Jose, raised in this country, and fed those same ideals, now wait, and hope their dream will come true.
“I just renewed my DACA on August 18th. That gives me two years and a couple months.”
Ironically, it may be capitalism and the free market fundamentals that save DACA for the Dreamers. “Owners of business, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix – they all support us. So, it makes me happy that we have the support and that hopefully something will get done. I still believe in the American Dream,” he smiles.