Death of a Dream

 

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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.

 

Dreamers and Fates Undecided

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Photo by Makeda Viechweg, The City College Campus, Harlem, New York

By: Makeda Viechweg

“Last week an old guy, I don’t know if he was faculty or a student, came to us and said, ‘Hide! ICE is here on campus checking IDs,’ and I was so scared!” says Linda, a DACA recipient at The City College of New York.

Although Linda misheard the man and agents of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were nowhere near the Harlem Campus, this is the kind of anxiety young DACA recipients feel.   When President Trump rescinded DACA, he threatened their futures.

President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2012 and created The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for people brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents before they were sixteen. It gave them Social Security numbers, work permits, and legal status that they could renew every two years.  President Trump gave Congress a deadline of six months to come up with a replacement for DACA.

Linda, nineteen, prefers not to disclose her full name because of the risk to her and her family’s safety.

She is the only one in her family that received DACA approval and her parents worry that she may get deported. Linda’s father came to the United States from Ecuador and her mother from France. They met in Venezuela where she was born.  She was brought to the U.S. at the age of three and her other siblings were born in America. Now that DACA is rescinded, Linda may be separated from her family.

If deported, Linda faces the turmoil and poverty in Venezuela. “It’s really, really bad. Corrupt. Horrible long lines to get simple toiletries and groceries. With their Social Security numbers, people get assigned days of the week to pick up groceries if anything is available.”

Inflation and political policies caused the once-prosperous country to decline. According to The Guardian, Venezuela’s food crisis has caused three-quarters of their population to lose weight. Many are hospitalized and dying from malnutrition.

The Guardian reports that some young girls are forced to work in brothels at the age of twelve, because there is no other work and they need food to support their family.

The thought of going back to Venezuela infuriates Linda.

“I am angry about the whole situation. At first I was numb and I couldn’t believe what I saw on Facebook because not everything on there is true. My permit expires this December and in the process of renewing it, we visited a couple of lawyers and they assured us that they’re not going to take it out and then the news said that they’re going to take it out.”

Linda majors in nursing at the City College and works hard at keeping up with the demanding curriculum. Nursing requires dedication and enough time to study. She juggles her anxiety, her dreams about the future, and her school work. The termination of the DACA program doesn’t stop her from reaching her goal. “It has made me more motivated and determined to achieve the best I can in all my classes and it’s more important than ever to push myself in any way I can.”

On the City College campus Linda joined the Dream Team, a club that provides a safe space for DACA students. She says it helps to have people around you who know what you’re going through. “It gives you moral support because I grew up being the only person around my age that was undocumented. I was always alone and told to keep quiet and lie when asked questions from anyone. But at the Dream Team I have people to talk to.”

As of today there is not a final decision on DACA. Roughly 800,000 Dreamers are left hanging in the wind and the country needs answers. California has the largest number of Dreamers. According to Statista, there are 223,000 undocumented youths living in California. Lawmakers there passed a sanctuary bill on September 16th. It declares California as a sanctuary state against deportation. It protects immigrants from being questioned by ICE, even those with felonies, according to Fox News.

On September 18th, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi hosted a conference in San Francisco discussing the Dream Act.  Forty immigrant protestors called her a “liar,” according to The Mercury News. The protestors distrust her because of  her private meetings with President Trump and they say she is using Dreamers as “bargaining chips”. Pelosi is accused of bargaining the Dream Act for strict border security measures. DACA protestors want protection for themselves and the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, which the Dream Act doesn’t cover.

If she could talk on the behalf of all Dreamers and directly to politicians she would say,

“Nothing comes easy. Keep pushing, keep voting for politicians that will do actions that favor everyone and not just a small percentage and then we can make a difference. Being educated on the subject is helpful. Educate and help educate others. Don’t stay in a box all the time. This goes for both sides. Ending DACA and deporting everyone is not the best way to solve the issue. Reforming the immigration system and making a pathway to residency and citizenship for us will make a positive impact that will benefit everyone. Listen to facts. Don’t hold onto stereotypes.”

 

Here to Stay

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by Alfha Gonzalez

Carleny Valentin suffers from the fear that fills her heart when she opens her eyes every morning. President Trump ordered an end to DACA, a program that protected 800,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation. The future of these young Dreamers  is uncertain. While the sun rises and sets, every Dreamer experiences fear and dismay.

Former President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012. The program protected illegal immigrants who came into the United States as minors. The program provided them two years of deferred action from deportation and allowed them to get a Social Security number and a work permit. Many families saw this as an opportunity to achieve the American Dream.

All immigrants protected by DACA have a story.

Carleny came to the United States at nine from the Dominican Republic with her father and siblings. She left behind an alcoholic mother who used heroin and beat her. She was often harassed at school for being different, for speaking broken English and for being dark-skinned. She remembers the word “abuse” as the one word that brings back her childhood.

Her father, who came into this country legally, never tried to help her fix her legal status. Her four siblings are all citizens.

Carleny left home at fifteen without finishing high school. She took refuge in alcoholism, drifted away from her family and started working. Ten years later, after going through rehabilitation and committed to change, Carleny has been sober for five years. She also found love.

She married Dereck Somwar, an American citizen.  She gave birth to fraternal twins on July 26th, a boy and a girl. Carleny had worked illegally. But DACA provided her with a sense of security and her fear was gone. Her marriage allowed her to apply for citizenship on September 14th. She will become the woman she always wanted to be without the constant panic nagging at her.

If she had the opportunity to talk to the president, she would say, “It isn’t late for someone who wants to change. I’ve worked day and night, as hard as necessary to stay afloat in this country. Regardless of my past I have always tried to give people the happiness I never received. I am looking forward to a better future, where I am here to stay with my family, who I love and cherish very much, sincerely. Thanks to love I am where I am today. But I fear that the future of those who, like me, were protected by DACA might be in danger. That the lives of 800,000 that know no other home might be torn apart”.

She asks President Trump to have mercy,  to think about the families that this decision might separate and to put himself in the position of those his decision puts at risk.