Why these DACA recipients left the U.S. for other countries

Since 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has protected more than 800,000 immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation and enabled them to legally work, drive and travel.

But the program never offered a route to citizenship.

Former President Trump wanted to end DACA shortly after taking office, but the program narrowly survived when the Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that his administration had improperly done so. DACA has been embroiled in litigation and court rulings have limited the program to renewals. A case challenging its legality is expected to reach the Supreme Court, where legal experts believe the Conservative majority will strike it down.

A growing number of DACA recipients are choosing to leave the country to gain permanent legal status. Here are some of their stories.

Monsy Hernandez, 28, from Mexico, lives in Germany

Monsy Hernandez

Born in Mexico, Monsy Hernandez had DACA until 2017 when they left the US and moved to Germany.

Monsy Hernandez became an activist fighting for universal health coverage right out of high school. The 18-year-old, who was taken across the US border as a child, grew up in South Carolina without access to health or dental insurance.

Hernandez continued her endorsement by calling for an end to immigration officer raids on the state. But after other activists and Hernandez’s mother were arrested, Hernandez, who uses she/they pronouns, decided to seek a place where they could feel safer.

Hernandez settled in Germany, where her husband obtained a freelance work visa. They left in 2017.

At first, being in Germany was isolating — it was Hernandez’s first time away from family in a country where they couldn’t speak the language. They felt stupid for giving up the “American Dream”.

Those feelings were compounded when Hernandez, while on the phone with another “Dreamer” who was considering moving, found out that they had been barred from returning to the United States for 10 years as punishment for illegal entry.

Last year, Hernandez and two other former DACA recipients founded ONWARD – Our Network for the Wellbeing and Empowerment of Relocated Dreamers – a support group for people who have left the US or are considering leaving

Hernandez is now in school, learning German and planning to study social work. This was something they couldn’t do in the US due to cost constraints and because they had taken on the task of raising two younger siblings while their mother was incarcerated.

The move turned out to be positive in other ways, too.

In South Carolina, poor, nonbinary, and Mexican were terms Hernandez was ashamed of. People have been harassing them because they don’t have legal status, they said. But in Germany, nobody knows enough to judge, Hernandez said, and they can shed the negativity they’ve carried around.

“I realized there was something underneath: there was a Mexican identity, but this time I looked at it with love,” they said. “I can’t even describe what it’s like to hate everything you are the whole time you’re an adult and then realize that it’s actually this wonderful thing that you should have been celebrating all the time .”

Nancy Touba, 31, from Ivory Coast, lives in the UK

Nancy Touba had always dreamed of visiting the UK.

When she started thinking about where to go to college in high school, her parents discouraged studying abroad, telling her it was too expensive. They had similarly discouraged her from getting a job when she was 16, telling her to just focus on school.

Touba, who was born in Ivory Coast and moved to Virginia with her family when she was 7, felt there was something deeper to do with her immigration status. But she didn’t push her parents, she said, and decided to go to the University of Connecticut on a scholarship.

Born in Ivory Coast, Nancy Touba was a DACA recipient

Born in Ivory Coast, Nancy Touba was a DACA recipient who decided to leave the US and resides in the UK

(Jay L Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

In 2012, then-President Obama announced the creation of DACA, and Touba finally learned that she had no legal status when her mother hired an attorney to help her apply.

Touba earned her Masters in Public Health from DACA and then worked as a researcher for a pharmaceutical consulting firm in New York. But when she turned 30, she started reflecting on how she never left the US

She said she was increasingly uncomfortable with the state of the country and had lost all hope that DACA recipients would find a path to citizenship.

At the same time, her mother had also remarried and just become a legal permanent resident.

“I was very happy for them, but I think it was bittersweet for me,” she said. “We were both there together. And then when she got her green card, she was able to leave, so it was like being left behind. That’s when I started to think I’d had enough.”

Touba had been in her job for almost three years. She knew the company had other offices around the world, including the UK, so she asked for a transfer.

After she submitted her application, her work visa was accepted within three weeks. In five years she can apply for a permanent residence permit. Her mother, who is now a US citizen, plans to visit next summer.

“The US is shooting itself in the foot,” she said. “Once upon a time, probably before the Trump administration, I would have said I was very proud to live in the US, even under DACA. There are other countries that we can go to where they actually take us.”

Itziri Gonzalez-Barcenas, 26, from Mexico, lives in France

Itziri Gonzalez-Barcenas grew up in a small town southwest of Raleigh, NC. Her parents, rural farmers from Mexico, had brought her across the border when she was 5 years old.

They have been open about their immigration status. In elementary school, she once came home from a careers fair and asked them about college – they replied that maybe she couldn’t go. In high school, she enrolled in a driver training course purely for the experience, only to be embarrassed when the instructor repeatedly reminded her that she had to provide a social security number.

Gonzalez’s father first told her about DACA. She got it before she turned 18, immediately got a job at a local restaurant and signed up for extracurricular activities to boost her college resume.

Born in Mexico, Itziri Gonzalez-Barcenas was a DACA recipient who decided to leave the United States

Born in Mexico, Itziri Gonzalez-Barcenas was a DACA recipient who decided to leave the United States and resides in France.

(Jay L Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

This preparation earned her a full scholarship for DACA recipients at a small liberal arts school. After graduating in 2019, she became a college counselor at a rural high school through AmeriCorps.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Gonzalez became disheartened as he saw student plans derail and DACA continue to disintegrate. She began thinking about applying to graduate school. At the same time, her husband, a French citizen, had to leave the United States when his visa expired. They decided to go to Paris.

The move was difficult for her parents to accept.

“I think it was just assumed that they left their families and friends and everything in Mexico so that we could have a life in the US,” Gonzalez said. They didn’t expect her to do the same.

As they counted down to her July 2020 departure, Gonzalez looked for signs that she should stay. During a stopover in Texas, her husband, seeing her upset, said they could always fly back if she changed her mind. But she couldn’t think of a strong enough reason to turn around.

The first year without her family was difficult, Gonzalez said. There were days when she felt so depressed she couldn’t get out of bed. She also found it difficult to adapt to French culture.

But Gonzalez never accumulated an unlawful presence in the US — beginning at age 18 — because she had DACA. She may soon be able to visit her family after receiving a French passport.

“There are two sides of the coin,” she said. “How much are you willing to sacrifice? And at the end of the day, what is most important to you? I’ve gained this sense of freedom. I no longer feel restricted. There are days when not hugging my mom really hurts, but I hope to reach the day when I can again and it will be worth it. It’s a long-term investment in myself.”

https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-11-12/why-these-three-daca-recipients-left-the-u-s Why these DACA recipients left the U.S. for other countries

Alley Einstein

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