At 13, Reyna got her first planner. Since then, she has strictly planned almost every day of her life: showering, eating, studying, job applications. She believed that if she planned carefully, she would go to college and one day become a civil rights attorney.
But Reyna, who was two years old when her mother carried her across the border from Mexico to the United States in 2006, is in the country without legal status. Perhaps most importantly, she was cut off from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — better known as DACA — an Obama-era policy that gave certain teenage immigrants work permits and protection from deportation.
According to USCIS data as of December 31, 2021, there are 611,470 DACA recipients and more than 800,000 people have been enrolled since its inception. To qualify, Dreamers had to be in the United States since 2007, arrive before the age of 16, and be under 31 since 2012. They also had to meet certain educational and criminal history requirements.
As DACA turns 10 today, it’s bittersweet for Reyna, who graduated from high school in Los Angeles this year along with an estimated 100,000 other undocumented immigrant youth without the benefits of DACA, according to a study published in May.
They are growing up without the benefits and protections enjoyed by their older peers because they were too young to qualify for the program before the Trump administration tried to end it five years ago, and a court ruling the administration on it Limited to process DACA renewals, not new applications. In July, the Fifth Circuit Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear the case – which is likely to go to the Supreme Court – to decide whether such a massive program is lawful.
Without DACA, Reyna is at a disadvantage. The 18-year-old, who missed out on DACA when Trump began breaking it down, is not protected from deportation and cannot legally work because she does not have a work permit.
“I’m so used to planning. It’s stressing me that I can’t really plan my future,” said Reyna, who didn’t want to be fully identified due to her lack of legal status. “Even if I go to college, could I get a job afterward?”
Many who belong to the post-DACA generation have friends, older siblings or cousins who are covered by DACA. They’ve seen them move from the fringes of society to a sort of middle-class lifestyle.
Those with DACA have made careers. They bought houses in better areas. They helped their parents financially. They opened bank accounts and saved money. DACA recipients contribute $3.4 billion to the US Treasury annually and $42 billion to annual GDP, according to a 2018 report by the American Action Forum, a center-right think tank in Washington.
“DACA is arguably the most successful immigrant integration policy in recent decades,” said Roberto Gonzales, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in immigrant youth and DACA.
“At the same time, these younger siblings, maybe cousins, younger people in the same communities didn’t have the same opportunities. They’re 15, 16 years old, and they would be eligible to get DACA and take after-school jobs, get driver’s licenses, and think about college,” he said. “Instead, they’re stuck.”
Janet Napolitano was Secretary of Homeland Security in 2012 when young immigrant activists convinced the Obama administration to protect them from deportation. Noting the thousands of people excluded from DACA, Napolitano told The Times she wished the program had included the ability to continuously adjust the dates so those who came to the US after 2007 could apply.
“We now have all these young people who have been at DACA and they have created their own legacy,” said Napolitano, who served as president of the University of California from 2013 to 2020. “The idea that it’s us, possibly throwing them all into a deportation process, just doesn’t seem to me to be consistent with good immigration enforcement.”
Over the past decade, the gap between those who have benefited from DACA and those who have not has continued to widen.
Many high schools and colleges have established student services and trained staff to assist students with DACA, but most undocumented students do not qualify.
“Many of the policies and institutional responses are lagging far behind in meeting their needs and addressing needs that are now vastly different from those of DACA beneficiaries,” Gonzales said.
That was the case for Kelly, a 19-year-old who moved to the United States from China five years ago. She asked The Times to withhold her surname because she was in the country without legal status.
Kelly, a prospective sophomore studying clinical nutrition at UC Davis, does not qualify for DACA because she arrived after the 2007 deadline. She entered the country legally but overstayed her tourist visa.
She was “a little sad” when she realized that DACA and its benefits were just unattainable. She faced a learning curve on how to qualify for college finance. Although university staff wanted to help her, she said her experiences with undocumented students seemed limited to students with DACA protection.
Eventually, Kelly found that she qualified for the California Dream Act, which allows undocumented students to pay state tuition.
Her younger sister, who attends a high school east of Los Angeles, also has no legal status. Kelly hopes she can help make the college admissions process smoother.
“All the mistakes I’ve made, I can try to prevent them for them,” she said.
Earlier this year, New York City granted DACA recipients the right to vote in local elections. It was an ambivalent victory for Chaewon Jessica Park, an immigrant justice organizer at the MinKwon Center for Community Action, a New York City-based Asia Pacific American community organization.
Park and her family arrived in the United States from South Korea in 2011 at the age of 10, too late to be eligible for DACA.
“I’m advocating for something I don’t even qualify for,” Park, a 22-year-old senior at Columbia University, recalled her thoughts.
She’s frustrated with a narrative that only focuses on DACA recipients. Some media outlets, she said, only ask to speak to those who have DACA. It’s a continuation of the narrative of good immigrants versus bad immigrants, she said.
“My voice is getting weaker,” she said.
It’s been 21 years since the Dream Act, which would have granted people like Park permanent residency, was first introduced in the Senate.
During a Senate Judiciary hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) linked the need for a permanent solution for DACA to the national labor shortage. He acknowledged that the situation is not improving as more high schoolers graduate without access to DACA.
“When promising students … are pushed into the shadows, we all lose,” he said. “Congress must pass a Dreamers legislation to allow more students to graduate and join our workforce. Our economy needs the talents and passion of immigrant youth.”
Last year, after Democratic lawmakers introduced the Dream and Promise Act, which offered 4.4 million immigrants protections from deportation, Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Thom Tillis (RN.C.) called for targeted legislation to protect DACA recipients to grant permanent legal status in exchange for probable proposals for border security and internal enforcement.
“Unfortunately, that request was denied,” Cornyn said. “Meanwhile, the DACA case continues to weave through the courts, bringing us closer to the day when the program is likely to be permanently and completely halted.”
The post-DACA generation faces common challenges, but much also depends on which state these young people live in.
Park has dreamed of becoming a teacher for years. But although New York allows DACA recipients to earn teacher certifications, those without DACA are not eligible.
Not being eligible to be a teacher is “devastating,” she said. Instead, Park is applying to law school and hoping to think about her future “a little later,” she said.
In California, immigrant youth like Park don’t have to pay out-of-town tuition to attend public universities. Ditto for Reyna, who graduated top of her class from a green dot public school in LA and eventually earned full scholarships to UC Berkeley and Scripps College.
However, this does not apply to non-DACA immigrant youth living in the 28 states that do not offer state tuition to undocumented students and therefore must pay full tuition to attend state schools.
Karen Nuñez Sifuentes moved to Colorado from Coahuila, Mexico at the age of 13, has overstayed her tourist visa and is now in the country without legal status. She did not qualify for DACA because she came to the US in 2012.
She was accepted into her dream college – Regis University, a private college in Denver. But due to her legal status and lack of DACA, admissions officers required her to pay out-of-state tuition.
She ended up attending MCU Denver and graduating with a degree in biochemistry, but was unable to pursue a career in science because she was legally barred from working for government-funded labs. That wouldn’t have been a problem if she had DACA.
“I had planned to get my master’s, work in a lab, and get my PhD,” Nuñez said. “I had to say goodbye to those dreams.”
Unable to obtain a work permit, she eventually formed her own limited liability company and contracted her services as a program and engagement coordinator with ConVivir Colorado, a leadership program for immigrant students.
Although federal law prohibits employers from hiring anyone here illegally, there is no law prohibiting such a person from incorporating a business or becoming an independent contractor.
It was hard for Nuñez to see her college friends move on at DACA. One went to medical school. Another is on the way to becoming a doctor’s assistant. A third is in dental school.
“Maybe some people go through something difficult, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
“For me, I don’t feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I need to be comfortable in the dark.”
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-06-15/on-dacas-10th-anniversary-these-immigrant-youth-are-graduating-high-school-with-no-immigration-relief No deportation protection. No work permit. On DACA’s 10th anniversary, thousands left behind