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DACA uncertainty leaves students in jeopardy

Before the DACA program, many undocumented immigrants felt as though they were living in the shadows.
Photo by Jenaro Ramirez.

When the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program began, Guadalupe cried tears of joy.

No longer forced to the shadows of society, DACA allows her to live and work without fear in the only country she’s ever called home. But with the program’s future now in jeopardy, Chemeketa students like Guadalupe may soon face the possibility of deportation.

“DACA turned my life around completely,” she said. “For once I actually felt like I belonged. My self-confidence grew. I had the opportunity to be independent and help my mother. I felt hopeful about my future and higher education was something I wanted to pursue.”

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA as it’s more commonly known, was established in 2012 by the Obama administration. The program allowed undocumented immigrants who met specific criteria to have work permits and to live in the United States without the risk of deportation.

But in September of this year, the current administration announced that the program would be rescinded.

Before DACA, life was difficult for these young undocumented immigrants.

“My life before DACA was a life full of restrictions and fears,” Rosa, a DACA recipient and a student at Chemeketa, said. “It was not until I was a sophomore when I found out I was undocumented. I found out because I was not able to do the same things my friends were doing, such as getting a driver’s permit or applying for a job. I felt left out all the time. I felt alone.

“I had no idea of what I was going to do after graduating high-school. I did not have many options. I felt frustration and I had no hope.”

Through the DACA program, Rosa has been able to pursue her dreams.

“DACA has truly been a blessing for me,” she said. “It is a piece of paper that has completely changed my life. It opened opportunities I did not see possible back in high school. It allowed me [to] come out of the shadows and get right with the law. And for the last four years, it has allowed me to live without fear.

“I went from picking blueberries out in the fields to being able to apply for a retail job. I mean it was not the greatest job, but for me it was. I have been able to financially help out my mother and attend college.”

Fabian, a Chemeketa student whose sister is a DACA recipient, said that his sister has thrived under the program.

“My sister, she’s buying a home actually,” he said. “She’s working as a teacher. She went from working in the fields to being a preschool teacher after she graduated.”

Fabian said that a common misconception about the program is that it gives undocumented immigrants all of the same benefits that natural born citizens have.

“Many people don’t understand the hardships that they pass,” he said. “A big thing is scholarships – you don’t qualify for them.

“It’s really difficult because you feel like you’re in the shadows. Even coming out as a DACA recipient is really difficult, even with your own friends. It’s that fear of ‘will they accept me as a friend still? Will they not like me?’”

Guadalupe shared a similar experience.

“There are still barriers we have to go through even with having DACA,” she said. “I work three jobs and go to school full-time. No federal financial aid is available to us and not many scholarships are available, so paying for school is challenging. We also don’t get to leave the country and come back, which is unfortunate because it has been seven years since I have seen my father.

“Even though we still have barriers to go through, I still appreciate having the opportunities I was presented with.”

Guadalupe said that when she heard that DACA had been rescinded, she felt like she was being cast aside.

“[I] felt like this country that I call home does not care about me,” she said. “For a couple of weeks I felt like all my hard work so far was in vain. I wanted to quit school and work to save up as much money as possible. But once I hit the bottom there was only one way to go: up. Something changed inside of me; I am hopeful about the future without DACA. I am hopeful that there will come something better than DACA. Something that will keep me from living life in limbo and will allow me to go visit my father.”

The fate of these undocumented immigrants is now in the hands of Congress. If they fail to act, Chemeketa students like Guadalupe and Rosa may be in danger of losing everything they’ve worked towards.

“I am back to that frustration and fear,” Rosa said. “I have two years left on my DACA, and if Congress does not pass a law by March 6, after my two years I do not know what will happen to me. [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services] has all of my information… I could be picked up and get deported at any time.”  

The uncertainty surrounding the future of DACA has put many in the community on edge.

“If you’ve lived here for 20 years, this is all you know,” Fabian said. “You don’t know how to write a sentence in the language of the country you came from. You don’t know how life is over there. It’s a culture shock.”

While Rosa understands why some people opposed DACA, she believes that much of the opposition was based on misinformation.

“To those who are against DACA I want to ask them to get on our side for a minute, and understand that we are not bad people,” Rosa said. “We do not want to take away anything from anyone or to hurt anyone or commit crimes. We are young adults with dreams and goals. We want to attend school, get a decent job, support our families, and have a better future just like many other people. We are here seeking better opportunities for a better life, opportunities that our homelands do not offer.  

“I would also want them to understand that we are hard working people, we want to help this country keep on growing, and we want to do it right. We do not want to be financially [dependent] on the government like many people think. We want to live without fear and continue on being right with the law.”

The full names of the students interviewed in this story have been redacted to protect them from potential legal and social repercussions.

A list of resources available to DACA students at Chemeketa can be found at Chemeketa’s DACA and Allies United club meets from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. every Tuesday in Bldg. 2-178.