Life In Limbo

A-Face-of-DACA
Dreamers Protest DACA Repeal, photo by Rhododendrites, Creative Commons 4.0 License Courtesy Wikimedia

 

By Elihu Fleury

Tom’s parents left Bangledesh and brought him to the United States when he was five. They wanted him to have a better life than they had growing up. They settled in Elmhurst, Queens where he made friends, went to  elementary school and Newtown High School. He doesn’t want his real name used, but he wants his story told because he’s upset about President Trump’s sudden withdrawal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

He always thought of himself as a legitimate American. “I didn’t know that I was an ‘illegal’ until the age of 14”, he said. “It’s hard to explain the feeling.”

As soon as President Obama created DACA in 2012, Tom applied. He  got a Social Security number and a permit to work.  He immediately got a job and developed a strong work ethic that earned good reviews from his supervisors.

DACA gave him a real sense of freedom and security, and allowed him to follow his passions including weight lifting. His regular routine includes work, study, friends and exercise. In other words, he lives a typical New York life.

“I don’t know any other country but the United States,” Tom complained bitterly. “It’s my home, not Bangladesh. I grew up here, I met my best friends here, I went to my first concert here, I had my first kiss. None of that in Bangladesh.”

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) gave him hope. DACA guarantees work permits and deportation relief to  immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children.

President Trump plan to repeal it threatens the future of 800,000 Dreamers like Tom.

Dreamers and other protested all across the country. Their colleges supported them. Some offered sanctuary and advice to protect them from immigration agents. 15 state governments filed a joint lawsuit to prevent the DACA rollback. California filed its own lawsuit because about 30 percent of DACA residents live there.  Six Dreamers in San Francisco also filed a lawsuit, saying that the repeal “was motivated by unconstitutional bias against Mexicans and Latinos.”

Tom felt more immediate effects. He had an interview for a job as a teller at a Manhattan bank before Trump announced the end of DACA.  He almost didn’t go.  “Because of the now dead DACA, I was very unenthusiastic about the interview and had to force myself to pretend that I cared about the interview,” he said.

He got the job.  But his DACA eligibility expires soon and he doesn’t know what he’ll do.

In fact, his immigration status affects his motivation to finish college. “I’m so close to graduating, but once I do and can’t work, then what was the point?”, he explains.  He continues to worry and says, “Normally I would be very motivated that all of my hard work paid off, and I had an opportunity for a position I’ve wanted for the longest time, but now it’s really hard for me to care.”

Tom seems like a confident 22 year-old-man, but inside he shares the turmoil experienced by other Dreamers. He fears deportation and thinks about it constantly.

It makes him angry.  “ICE can suck it,” he almost spat. “They treat immigrants and ‘illegals’ like trash, not humans”. He pointed out that he has no criminal record  and “I don’t plan on having a record so I hope I don’t get deported. I plan on working for as long as I can, either at the bank or any other job I hope to get.”

Glimmers of hope exist. In the past few weeks, Mr. Trump began working with Democrats on a deal to preserve DACA. Yet nothing concrete has happened.

For Tom, a solution can’t come soon enough. “If I do end up getting deported, that would really suck,” he said, ”and that’s the most ‘PG’ way I can put it”.

 

 

 

Death of a Dream

 

DACA-Stories-CCNY-Journalism-Students

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.

 

Here to Stay

DACA-Stories-By-CCNY-Journalism-Students

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.