The Ins and Outs of DACA in Maryland

Hollywood, MD—On Tuesday Sept. 5, President Donald Trump ordered an end to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an immigration policy established by the Obama administration in June 2012. The announcement of the action came from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is a program that allows certain illegal immigrants who came into the country as minors to obtain a work permit and be freed of deportation. Those eligible for DACA must apply every two years for renewal to be able to keep their permit and be safe from getting deported. Almost 800,000 people in the United States are DACA recipients, most of who hail from California and Texas, but over 10,000 are in Maryland.

The action does not grant or guarantee citizenship for its recipients, it solely gives those qualified the ability to legally work and to have relief from the fear of deportation for two years. It also gives immigrants the capability to secure a driver’s license and enroll in college. The recipients, known as DREAMers, all pay income taxes. To be considered for DACA, one must be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, have migrated into the United States before the age of 16, be currently attending school, graduated from high school or obtained a GED, and have never been charged with a felony, among other requirements. There is a lengthy process in applying for DACA, including a $495 fee paid at initial application and every two years at renewal, fingerprinting, background checks, and evidence supporting that the candidate fulfills all requirements.

DREAMers obtained their moniker as a tribute to the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), a proposal that would offer legal status to specific immigrants who joined the military or enrolled in college, along with other conditions. The federal DREAM Act never passed, but the name stuck for these hopefuls. Former President Obama and his administration created DACA through an executive order in June 2012, an order that Trump and Sessions both claimed was “unconstitutional.” However, the Supreme Court challenged DACA in June 2016, and the case ended in a 4-4 ruling, meaning that DACA is not legally considered unconstitutional. Presidents have set in motion executive orders since the days of George Washington, even Trump has enacted 45 as of August.

Trump decided to terminate DACA in order to leave the decision-making up to Congress. The Trump Administration is giving Congress six months to determine the fate of these DREAMers, leaving some 800,000 people in a state of limbo, unsure of what their future holds after March 5, 2018. For those whose grants expire before the end date, they have exactly one month, until Oct. 5, to apply for renewal. If Congress does not reach a “conclusion” in regards to DACA, then come March 5, these DREAMers will start to lose their ability to work, enroll in college, buy a home, and may face deportation.

Trump’s termination of DACA Tuesday was met with both backlash and support. Many of those in support agree that the overall decision should fall on Congress, while those against are not only the DREAMers themselves, but those that cite that these DACA recipients were brought into this country by their parents at a young age. To deport them to countries that they may not even remember, where the native tongue is a language they may not even speak, could be deemed “cruel,” as Obama wrote in a Facebook post (included below) as a response to Trump’s decision. To many of them, the United States is all that they know, it is their home.

Even Trump sent out a few tweets that could almost be interpreted as support for DACA (see below).

Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can't, I will revisit this issue!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2017

Congress, get ready to do your job - DACA!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2017

Despite Trump’s ambiguous personal feelings regarding DACA, the fear that these DREAMers now face is all too real.

One such DREAMer, Jesus Perez, was five years-old when his parents brought him and his siblings into this country. Perez attended the entirety of elementary, middle and high school in Baltimore, and continues to live there today. Perez is a research assistant at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, and is currently transitioning to another position at the school as someone who helps eighth graders going into high school deal with mental health issues. He had plans to continue his education, but now with the announcement of DACA’s rescindment, he isn’t sure if he will be able to attend college. He also volunteers with CASA de Maryland, an immigration advocacy organization that offers English and financial classes, interpretations, social services and brings awareness to immigration legislation.

When Obama made the announcement about DACA in 2012, Perez says he felt relieved. “It was a breather for a moment… It was a blessing, something that opened many doors for me.” Perez says that through DACA, he could help his parents financially and that it eased their stresses. With Trump’s announcement on Tuesday, Perez said, “It hurts when you lose something that you worked so hard for.” Even just for the DACA application, Perez says sometimes he would have to give up an entire paycheck to afford renewal. The only member of Perez’s immediate family who is a U.S. citizen is his youngest brother, who was born in the States. Perez says that now his future is very unclear, and that he has a fear of deportation. “We have plans, but now our plans have suddenly changed to focus on making sure we have a future here, making sure we’re able to stay here.”

For those entirely against DACA, Perez says that he wants them to realize that DREAMers cannot apply for federal financial aid or other certain federal help, and he wants them to learn more about the immigration process. These DACA recipients aren’t just numbers, they are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, cousins, friends, teachers, EMTs, volunteers. They are part of their community. Now with his fate up in the air, Perez urges the public, “Educate yourself and make Congress act.”

Another DREAMer came forward with her story. Isabella Garcia (name changed to protect privacy) came to the United States from Guatemala when she was 12 years old. Now 24, Garcia lives in Lexington Park with her mother and younger siblings. DACA allowed Garcia to work legally, and to save enough money to obtain her associate’s degree in business from the College of Southern Maryland. Prior to the announcement of DACA’s rescindment, she had plans in mind to further her career. Now, her entire future will be determined by a decision made in six months. Life for Garcia is a waiting game.

When Garcia was three years old and living in Guatemala, her father was murdered for unknown reasons. Living in poverty without their father’s income, Garcia’s mother went to the United States and left Garcia and her younger brother to live with their grandmother. Her mother sent them money so that they could get by. Garcia recalls working in corn and tobacco fields as a child for days on end, earning the equivalent of about two American dollars per day. She lived with no electricity until she was nine years old. Garcia had no plans of coming to the United States to join her mother until a family member of hers living in Guatemala began to sexually assault her. She felt like she had to escape, so she did.

Garcia has worked in this country since she was 15 years old, but could finally work legally when Obama made DACA an executive order in 2012. She says that she was raised with a strong work ethic, and has worked hard for everything that she has wanted in life. “People think [immigrants are] here to take jobs from Americans. No, we’re not, we have these jobs because we want to work, whereas there are a lot of Americans that don’t want to take advantage of all of the blessings that this country wants to provide for them.” While Garcia’s degree is in business, her passion is for assisting the elderly. She wanted to go back to college and get another degree in the healthcare field, but now she is stuck in this limbo state, with an unknown horizon ahead of her.

Garcia requested that her real identity remain anonymous for fear of backlash. She stated that she was looking through some comments left by users on Trump’s Instagram page, and was shocked by all the discrimination people were proclaiming. “I’ve never realized how much people hated us.” Garcia says that she never experienced racism growing up in this country until more recently. For those against DACA, Garcia wants them to know that DACA recipients pay their taxes, they have no felonies, and they work hard to keep what they have. “I wish [people] would stop and think, ‘what if I was in their situation? What if my kid was in that situation?’” Garcia fled Guatemala to leave a life of poverty and sexual abuse, and in this country, she was able to get an education, a stable income, and dreamed of a brighter future. These dreams now hover abstrusely in the air until Congress reaches a consensus.

Almost 800,000 people living in our great country have been paying taxes, contributing to economic growth, going to college, and solidifying our strong work force that may now have these efforts ripped out from underneath of them like a tablecloth stacked with expensive china. The decision now falls on Congress whether these young people will lose everything they have worked for, or can continue to be on their pursuit of happiness.

Images provided by Jesus Perez.

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