UnDACAmented: Keeping The Dream Alive

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Flickr: AFSC-Bay Area

 

I was fortunate enough to have been born here only a few weeks after my parents’ initial arrival in the “land of the free.” Many friends and family, however, were not so lucky.

Born in Delano and raised in McFarland, you can definitely say I lived in my own little Latino bubble. I remember growing up thinking everyone around me was Latino, and of course, AMERICAN. Immigration status never ran through my head. Everyone around me was hard working, humble, and determined to live the “American Dream.” What could be more American than that?

It was not until I was 13 that I realized that many of my family members, friends, and community members were not considered “American” by others simply because they lacked a piece of paper stating so.  I began to take notice while I worked alongside my mother and family en la pisca de uva. I remember they would have to hide me because I was too young to be working with them, but I always wondered why others, who were obviously older than me, also kept a low profile when any supervisors were around. Although I didn’t really understand it then, I began to run into more of these situations as I grew older. The difference being that it was no longer only in the fields, but I was witnessing these situations in my school.

Immigration has always been a very controversial topic in the United States.  There are many who argue that continuous immigration has a negative impact on the social, political, and economic structures of our great country. This, however, is not necessarily true. Immigration is an integral part of the American experience. Historically the United States has been seen as the “land of opportunity,” where people from very diverse origins and cultures come to pursue the “American Dream.” This migration is often influenced by a number of push and pull factors including the search of political freedom, economic prosperity, religious freedom, and family reunification. The numerous waves of immigration that the United States has experienced have kept this nation vibrant by enriching our collective culture and diversifying our society. Look around, without immigration there would be no Chinatown, Little Italy, or Placita Olvera.

Immigrants not only contribute taxes through employment, many become business owners of establishments that provide us with fresh and diverse perspectives.

On June 15, 2012, President Obama promulgated the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program as an executive order. While different from a law, this executive order provides guidance for the federal government on how to execute existing rules that have been passed by congress.  DACA is not only providing temporary permission to stay in the US, but it is also opening many other doors for these DACAmented youth. This was a great milestone in embracing America’s “nation of immigrants” identity.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program allows undocumented youth who arrived in the US as children, to reside here without the fear of being deported. According to a recent case study by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, since 2012, a total of 1,175,689 DACA applications have been received, of which a total of 908,479 have been approved. In California alone there have been a total of 315,327 initial DACA applications and renewals submitted, of which a total of 261,395 have been approved. California leads the nation in the number of DACA applicants and recipients.  Aside from temporary relief from deportation, some of the benefits that come with DACA is the ability to obtain worker’s permits, and in some states, qualify for in-state tuition, state-based financial aid, driver’s licenses, and access to state-based health coverage.

I had the opportunity to sit down and have coffee with a fellow UC Davis Aggie to discuss her DACA story and the immigration-status challenges she has had to overcome in the past years. Alicia started off by stating that “without DACA [she] would not be where [she] is today.” After the announcement of DACA by President Obama, Alicia remembers her parents encouraging her to apply. However, she was very hesitant. Alicia feared that if anything were to go wrong she could jeopardize her family’s anonymity, whether it be through investigation or even deportation.

After much consideration Alicia finally decided to apply for DACA in 2013 and was approved later that year. “This was by far one of the best decisions I have even made,” Alicia stated.

Since her new DACA status Alicia feels much more comfortable being herself. “Being DACAmented to me is more than just a status, it’s about being present. No longer do I have to keep a low profile in fear of being targeted just because I wasn’t born here,” said Alicia. She is now enrolled in Medi-Cal and has also qualified for a worker’s permit. “Now more than ever I feel confident that after graduation; I will even be able to apply for employment in a field that I am passionate about.”

Though DACA has made a significant impact in the lives of many, there is still much work to be done. On November 20, 2014, President Obama announced that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would no longer deport qualified individuals through the implementation of the extended DACA and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents) programs.

With the new expansion of DACA, more people of any current age who entered the United States before the age of 16 and lived in the United States continuously since January 1, 2010 would qualify, a limitation present in the original DACA program. The DAPA program allows the parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to also apply for deferred action and employment authorization as long as they have continuously lived in the U.S. since January 1, 2010, and pass required background checks. These two programs would last a total of three years, which allow for renewal after each expiration.  In California alone there are 98,000 immigrants eligible for the expanded DACA program, and 1,116,000 immigrants eligible for DAPA.

The expanded DACA and DAPA program, however, have been over attack these past few months.  Last December, Texas and 35 other states filed a lawsuit in the Southern District Court of Texas seeking to block the expanded DACA and DAPA programs on the grounds that the costs would be too great, that the order exceeds executive power, and the rights of states to challenge federal immigration reform. Unfortunately on February 16, 2015, Judge Andrew Hanen ruled in favor of these states and issued a temporary injunction blocking the expanded DACA and DAPA programs. Although the original DACA program remains in effect, thousands who are eligible for the expanded DACA and DAPA remain at risk of being deported. The Department of Justice has asked Judge Hanen to lift the injunction while they appeal his ruling to the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans; the request was denied. On May 26, 2015, the appeal submitted by the Department of Justice in order to raise the injunction to the 5th Circuit was turned down, leaving many in fear.

Although we have hit a temporary block in terms of federal action on immigration, the Golden State has not given up. California has been leading the nation on immigration policy for quite a while now. From AB 540—In-state Tuition for all California High School Graduates, AB 60—Drivers Licenses for All, and the California DREAM Act, California recognizes that immigration reform is beneficial to our state. This past year there have been a number of efforts to support California’s immigrant population, one of them being the One California budget proposal.  A number of diverse organizations, including LCHC, requested $20 million in the state budget for 2015-2016, as part of a new proposal to develop a program under the Department of Social Services, titled: One California: Coordinating Citizenship and Immigration Assistance.

The Budget was signed by Governor Brown which includes $15 million in the General Fund for contracts or grants to non-profit organizations to provide application assistance for naturalization, assistance to undocumented immigrants for deferred action, and support immigration related education and outreach efforts. This is a HUGE milestone for California.

This is only the beginning! Here at the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California we believe that immigration status is a determinant of health.  We will continue to work with our allies to ensure that all Californians can receive the benefits of living in our great state.