After DACA Deadline, Immigrant Youth Consider Emerging Legislation

Whatever becomes of the DREAM Act, the SUCCEED Act, or any other legislation that emerges, immigrant advocates are urging people to not sit out the fight.

A young girl walks with a group of protesters during the #DefendDACA march to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Washington, D.C. on September 5. Lauryn Gutierrez / Rewire

After the Trump administration’s decision last month to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the federal government received its last DACA applications on Thursday. The Republican-held Congress now has five months to pass legislation that will save 800,000 DACA recipients from deportation.

These are young people like Eduardo, a Winston Salem, North Carolina, DACA recipient whose family, like many mixed-status families, has been deeply impacted by the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies.

Eduardo’s mother, Minerva Garcia, was a victim of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) “silent raids.” She’d been checking in with immigration officials for yearsand had been in Winston Salem for nearly two decadeswhen under Trump, she was ordered to leave the country within 30 days. After immigrant rights advocates and faith leaders rallied around her as she made a public plea to ICE to stop her deportation, she had to enter sanctuary in a Greensboro, North Carolina, church, where she remained for 96 days.

It was during Garcia’s time in sanctuary that Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that DACA would be rescinded. In the weeks prior, Eduardo renewed his DACA status with the help of Garcia’s attorney, Helen Parsonage, who told Rewire that in her years as an immigration attorney, she has never seen attacks come so “rapid fire” from an administration. In a mixed-status family like Eduardo’s, everyone has been affected, including his two young brothers, the sole U.S. citizens in the family, who lived with Minerva in sanctuary and would be forced to return to Mexico with Eduardo and his mother should they both be targeted for deportation.

Eduardo, who’s had DACA since 2015, told Rewire he expected DACA to end “because Donald Trump is Donald Trump and he does terrible things.” DACA is the sole reason Eduado was able to gain legal employment. As a blind person with no legal status, he couldn’t find work, but when the 21-year-old received DACA, he was able to gain employment at IFB Solutions, the largest employer in the U.S. of people who are blind or visually impaired.

While other DACA recipients have expressed more immediate concerns, like losing their jobs once their work authorization expires, Eduardo has one overarching concern.

“Of course I enjoy having a job and making a living, but I’m really worried about being forced to go back to Mexico. I haven’t been there since I was a little kid and I know that it’s really hardand maybe even impossiblefor people with disabilities to have any kind of qualify of life there, especially if they can’t work or if my mom couldn’t find a job there,” Eduardo said. “That’s what I think will happen. I think he ended it so he could deport all of us and I’m really scared of that.”

Juan Manuel Guzman, the community and government affairs manager for the immigrant rights organization United We Dream, told Rewire in a phone interview that there’s a lot of anxiety in undocumented communities right now and “the fear is palpable.”

“We are committed to fighting, that’s what we do know, but there’s a political environment right now in which there isn’t a lot of understanding or faith in how the government is currently functioning. The president says one thing one day and does something different the next. There are a lot of lives and families on the line,” Guzman said.

For United We Dream, part of fighting back is advocating for legislation that would act as a safeguard for DACA recipients who may soon face deportation, but more than that, legislation that would benefit more people and that could provide a pathway to citizenship.

Guzman did not meet the age qualification to benefit from DACA. He would, however, qualify for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act re-introduced in the Senate and the House in July. The DREAM Act allows current, former, and future undocumented high-school graduates and GED recipients a three-step pathway to U.S. citizenship through college, work, or the armed services, according to the American Immigration Council. The pathway to citizenship would take 13 years.

First introduced in 2001, the legislation has been floating around for 16 years and has never been signed into law, though it has come close. In 2010, the House of Representatives passed the bill and the Senate came five votes short of the 60 Senators needed to proceed to vote on the bill, the American Immigration Council reported.

The DREAM Act is a hard subject for many undocumented organizers who “came out of the shadows” as part of the undocumented student movement pushing for the legislation. There were sit-ins in lawmakers’ offices, marches, hunger strikes, and young undocumented people put their bodies on the line for the DREAM Act, only to have their hopes crushed time and time again. As a result, many are reluctant to let themselves become hopeful about the DREAM Act again. Guzman said he is “being realistic.”

“The DREAM Act recognizes the age requirement in DACA was arbitrary, and its definition of ‘minor’ aligns with the law. I would qualify for the DREAM Act introduced in the House and the Senate. For the first time, it makes me feel that I could have an opportunity. It gives me hope, but at the same time, you just don’t know,” the manager said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen, but I have to have hope or else what am I doing this work for? I’m also staying grounded because I know at the end of the day, the DREAM Act may not happen. All we can do is fight for it.”

An astonishing two-thirds of Trump supporters want DACA recipients to remain in the United States. and while Congress has failed to act on any legislation that would provide permanent status to these young immigrants, a number of legislative proposals have been introduced, some much more restrictive than the DREAM Act.

This includes the Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers, Employment, Education, and Defending our Nation (SUCCEED) Act, introduced by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) last month. Under the SUCCEED Act, it would take a DACA recipient 15 years to become a citizen, but there’s also an age cap in place that would make a large swath of current DACA recipients ineligible to apply.

The bill only benefits those who were under age 31 as of June 2012. “This provision would particularly penalize older Dreamers who still came to the country at a young age but have been waiting years, if not decades, for the U.S. Congress to protect them,” the Center for American Progress reported. “This would create the perverse result that people who came to America at a young age and have the longest ties to the country are barred from remaining where they have lived in for—at a minimum—20 years.”

Though advocates have expressed many concerns about the SUCCEED Act—including the condition that those applying essentially sign their own deportation order—one of the bill’s most troubling provisions appear to come directly from talking points widely circulated by anti-immigrant hate groups.

The bill seeks to curb what these groups call “chain migration,” in which those who become citizens sponsor their family members to undergo a similar and similarly long years-long process. Specifically, the bill places a limit on the ability of recipients in lawful permanent resident status—a status that will take them 10 years to obtain under the act—to sponsor their close family members for permanent residency.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated anti-immigrant hate group, has spent years warning against chain migration. FAIR, which was founded by a white nationalist considered the “father” of the anti-immigrant movement, uses misleading or inflated numbers to misrepresent how the U.S. immigration system works. According to the FAIR, “Most immigrants are admitted [to the United States] simply because they have a relative here who sponsors them, not because of what they might be able to contribute to our society.” That claim has been debunked.

The SUCCEED Act would create the requirement that no temporary or nonimmigrant visa be issued unless a person signs away any right to contest their deportation or have a hearing in front of a judge if they violate terms of their visa or fail to leave when their authorized period of stay expires. According to the Center for American Progress, this violates “the most basic” of due process rights. “This would include individuals who accidentally overstay their visas, even by as little as one day, and would also include those who inadvertently violate the terms of their visa, such as a student who falls just below a full course of study,” the Center for American Progress reported.

Viridiana Martinez, co-founder of North Carolina’s Alerta Migratoria, an immigrant-lead grassroots immigrant rights organization, said she wasn’t surprised when Tillis introduced the SUCCEED Act, as the senator has made it clear he’s wanted to tackle immigration ever since he was North Carolina’s House speaker.

While acknowledging the bill is “far from perfect,” Martinez told Rewire in a phone interview she’s heartened to see a Republican senator introduce something—anything—after years of inaction.

Martinez, who has been organizing for almost ten years in her state, said one of the most frustrating parts of working around immigration is that while many politicians have much to say about the nation’s broken immigration system, few do anything to offer a solution. If nothing else, Trump’s initial six-month timeline for Congress to act after rescinding DACA has forced lawmakers to act.

“When the SUCCEED Act was introduced, people were like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ I wanted to yell, ‘I’m sorry, I know this is nuts, but we have to work with it,’” Martinez said. “For me, as someone who grew up in state where we never had a platform to raise our concerns, where we had to fight and claw to have our voices heard and be at the negotiating table, we need to be a part of these conversations.”

Martinez has long asserted that she is loyal to no political party, no politician, no ally; she is only loyal to her family and the larger undocumented community. No bill that is introduced will be perfect, she said, and most bills will leave out many undocumented people, including parents who have spent decades in the United States, with no pathway to citizenship.

“I understand why people don’t want to engage with something like the SUCCEED Act. It’s not a great bill, but I think we have more to gain from being a part of these conversations,” Martinez said. “The optics that came from Washington regarding ‘dreamers’ put us all in a big box, but depending on where you live in the country, your experience as an undocumented person or a DACA recipient is very different. We’re all living different realities, but we’re being talked about like we’re all the same.”

As an example, Martinez cited how undocumented immigrants, who can’t access driver’s licenses in the state, regularly get pulled over for driving without a license and are funneled into deportation proceedings as a result. States like California, considered far more “immigrant friendly,” issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

“Maybe undocumented people in states like California don’t know what that level of enforcement is really like. The reality is that that is our reality. That’s why people here get deported, for something as simple as driving without a license. I don’t live in California, so don’t have the same privileges. I live here in North Carolina, which means I know that if anything emerges from here related to immigration, I have to be a part of the conversation. To not be a part of it is shooting myself in the foot. And I get that might be hard for other people in the community, across the country, to understand,” Martinez said.

According to undocumented advocates, there’s a lot of pressure to come together and have everyone agree on the end product of legislation for their communities, butas Martinez expressedthat a huge challenge, given that everyone is “living in a different reality” depending on their location in the country and the level of immigration enforcement law enforcement in their immediate area engages in.

Like Guzman, Martinez said it’s hard to know how seriously to take any of the legislation being introduced to help DACA recipients, as young immigrants have been “burned so many times” by Congress.

“You either engage or you don’t, but if you choose to, you have to figure out how you engage in a way that moves your community’s agenda forward. For me, it’s about being involved in hopes there will be a better end result, as opposed to totally backing a specific piece of legislation,” Martinez said. “If anyone extends their hand to me, I’m going to take it because it’s an opportunity to do work for my community.”

Whatever becomes of the DREAM Act, the SUCCEED Act, or any other legislation that emerges, Martinez wants undocumented young people from North Carolina to be thought of as “dreamers who didn’t sit it out.”

“We have a voice, one that we fought really hard to have, and we’re going to use it,” the Alerta Migratoria co-founder said. “When I first started doing this work, it was so lonely. It was just out here alone, with no support. In 2017, it’s so different. Teachers are protesting ICE on behalf of their students, people are marching with us. I don’t know how any of this will turn out, but I know we’re not alone in this fight. At least we have that.”