They're from the southern lands and they mostly came here so that things would be better for you, their children. But because they are undocumented immigrants who wandered north in search of freedom and opportunity, they're subject to deportation, and their lives—and yours, too—is burdened by the fear of being removed from what is essentially your home, your world, at the whim of the state.
And it doesn't seem to matter whether there is a Democrat or a Republican living in the White House. According to immigration activists, during the Obama administration, key progressives couldn't push through legislation to stop the over-zealous enforcement tactics of federal immigration officials. After much debate and some sustained public pressure from immigrant groups around the USA, an executive order went out. Called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the edict gave young immigrants some decent options, allowing them to stay in the United States while they worked on stuff like education and citizenship, also making them eligible for work permits.
By applying for this deferral, they could avoid la migra altogether, albeit the two-year reenrollment procedure that deferral status also conferred upon particpants.
DACA participants became known by the nickname “Dreamers” in pop culture, the media and in the hearts of citizens and advocacy groups who hope the best for this group, even as immigration enforcement changes radically under a nationalist president whose campaign platform specifically addressed the immigration issue in this country by calling for mass deportations and an exclusionary wall.
Recent developments in this saga include a lawsuit by Republican state attorney generals demanding an end to the program, and a recent proclamation by Donald Trump that he understands the gravity of the situation—vis-à-vis American cultural and economic development—and will make the final decision himself about whether the Dreamers shall be allowed to persist and thrive under the aegis of the bald eagle.
Throughout our great nation, DACA participants have begun to organize and purposefully make themselves visible, proclaiming on social media outlets this spring that they are here to stay, that this is their home.
Recently Weekly Alibi had an opportunity to chat with two successful, politically aware Dreamers who are still looking toward the future despite the uncertainty of these times. Here's part of the conversation August March had with Gabriela Hernandez, executive director of New Mexico Dream Team and Isaac De Luna, communications director for Listo Nuevo Mexico, an immigrant advocacy group.
Weekly Alibi: Trying to protect and give credence and support to our immigrant communities has become an important activity for progressive Burqueños. Tell me how we can further those goals.
Gabriela Hernandez: I'm was undocumented myself. I was born in Ciudad Juarez. The reason we decided to migrate had to do with domestic violence. My mom was basically running away from my abusive father. But there were no jobs, no opportunities [in Mexico]. I was six years old. We didn't have the resources to get proper documentation for our move north. So, I grew up here. I didn't realize what it meant to be undocumented until much later in my childhood. I have been very privileged however to get a work permit through the deferred action program. So, I've had documentation since 2013, thanks to the DACA program.
Now, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is moving toward phasing out the program, and has said that two year permits granted under DACA may not be renewed. What does that mean for someone like you?
For someone like me, that means going back. But I've been involved in the movement for so long … fighting against injustice, fighting, not just for immigrants but for all people of color and LGBT rights too, that I feel I must continue, unafraid. With our grass-roots organizing, being involved on a local, state and national level, we were able to make DACA happen through community pressure. It was one of our big victories and we'll continue to work with that in mind.
If president Obama's executive order is rescinded, how is that going to affect your life?
It's taking away my opportunities here. Having deferred action allowed me to attend New Mexico Highlands University; that gave me the opportunity to have a job, to use my degree here in New Mexico. Most importantly, this all gave me the opportunity to have health care. Previously, I wasn't able to take care of my physical and mental health. I have a sustainable home now; having financial security in my life has relieved much pressure, but stopping the DACA program would be a barrier to me attaining my goals. When I think about the administration attacking DACA, I think about the youth who won't have the opportunities I've had.
Issac, how are you involved in this program?
Issac De Luna: I was born and raised in Torreon, Mexico, it's a northern city. My family and I moved to the US in 2005 and we were all undocumented immigrants. Now I am a permanent legal resident. But I have been through the experience—how to navigate the language, the culture, the educational system. Being undocumented causes a lot of limitations for people who are looking for better opportunities for their families, for their children. In 2009, I first started getting involved in the immigration movement through my community college. I did outreach to other students. My job was to reach out to other undocumented students to tell them they didn't have to stop learning.
How will changes to the program affect you and your family?
It creates a worry and a fear. My brother is a current beneficiary of DACA. He relies on this protection from deportation. He relies on the program to provide better opportunities for his career and education in the United States. The DACA program has had an enormous impact on people across the country. It's allowed people to buy their first home, their first car, to have the physical ability to succeed, which is something undocumented families didn't have prior to DACA's enactment.
Is the situation going to get better or worse?
We've heard that DHS has stated that they're going to get rid of DACA. We believe we created it through the pressure that we created by mobilizing our people. We made it happen. In that same fashion, we're going to make sure that DACA doesn't go away without a fight.