Now that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is in the hands of Congress, let’s focus on what can be saved: the futures of the 790,000 Dreamers who have received work permits as well as protection from deportation, in addition to those who are eligible but have not applied for DACA.
According to a Morning Consult/Politico poll, 76 percent of registered voters are in favor of allowing Dreamers to stay and either become legal or become citizens, if they meet the requirements. And by a 2014 Pew Research Center estimate, the DACA-eligible population is 1.1 million. It’s clear that there is overwhelming support for Dreamers.
When 27-year-old Dreamer Luis Quiroz heard the news that DACA was being rescinded, it was as though something that he’d worked for all his life had been stripped from him.
“I felt completely defeated,” he said in a phone call organized by New America Media.
Quiroz was born in the Mexican state of Guerrero and was brought to America when he was 6 months old. He grew up in San Diego and later moved to The City to attend college at San Francisco State University.
“My whole life has been devoted to the United States,” he said. “I know no other home. California has been my home, my whole life, pretty much.”
DACA changed Quiroz’s life in two crucial ways: He found a job, which helps him pay off education expenses, and he obtained a driver’s license, which allows him to experience the exhilaration of unrestricted movement. DACA validated Quiroz’s identity.
“I could prove to the world that I was Luis Quiroz and that my birthdate was the date it was and that I was a California resident,” he said.
Quiroz worried about his family living close to the Mexican border in San Diego, where there was heightened immigration enforcement activity — and he was right to worry. When Quiroz was 15, his 23-year-old brother was detained and subsequently deported. Two years after that, his father was deported. And in 2015, his mother was sent back to Mexico.
“The reason they fled Mexico in the first place was for economic opportunity, to escape violence, for a better future for themselves and their children,” Quiroz recalled. “As much as we want to see each other again, my parents recommend I stay in San Francisco.”
His voice thickened with emotion, Quiroz talked about a recent tragedy in his family. In March of this year, his brother, who operated a business for tourists, was assaulted and shot point-blank in front of his 4-year-old daughter.
“I currently have no way of going to Mexico or visiting his grave or visiting my parents or my brother’s daughter, whom I have never met,” Quiroz said. He had just finished putting together the paperwork and fee for DACA’s advanced parole, which would have enabled him to visit his family in Mexico. But now, with the rescinding of DACA, advanced parole is no longer an option.
Since the announcement that DACA is being phased out, no new applications are being accepted as of Sept. 5, 2017. Applications that were received by Sept. 5, however, will be processed as before. Furthermore, if a person holds DACA status, and if that person’s application is up for renewal in the next six months — between Sept. 5 and March 5, 2018 — they will be allowed to renew, only if their application is received by the deadline of Oct. 5, 2017.
“I’m very lucky to be in San Francisco of all places,” Quiroz declared, enumerating the resources that The City has offered him.
S.F. State set up healing circles at their Dream Resource Center after the DACA announcement. San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs (OCEIA) offers advice, support and sanctuary to Dreamers. OCEIA provides help with DACA renewals, fee assistance and legal aid and is will hold an informational DACA renewal workshop on Sept. 23, between 1 and 5 p.m. at Mission High School.
The pressure should be on Congress to pass the bipartisan Dream Act 2017, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers who attend college, work legally or enlist in the military. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer met with the President to negotiate the terms to its passage. While the bill does not have any provisions on detentions, deportations, border security or enforcement, there are some politicians pushing for bundling one or more enforcement measures into the bill.
Dreamers like Quiroz are concerned about what might be compromised in the zeal to pass the Dream Act. Angry protesters disrupted Pelosi’s San Francisco news conference this week with the message that they will not stand for a half-baked solution.
“I, personally, feel torn about this,” Quiroz said. “This Dream Act offers relief to less than 10 percent of the undocumented population, and it excludes everyone else.”
He fears that while he would personally benefit from this bill, the larger undocumented population will be left unprotected.
“It’s as if saying, ‘We get to stay, but our parents will get deported,’” Quiroz said.
I believe that immigration reform is too complex to tackle all at once. We must attend to smaller chunks of reform without conceding the larger goals. The Dream Act 2017 can only be the first step to a broader humane immigration policy, but it’s a crucial and critical first step.
Jaya Padmanabhan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan. In Brown Type covers immigrant issues in San Francisco.