‘I Am Not Hopeful at All’: More DACA Recipients Share Their Stories

"Waking every day is both a miracle that we haven't died and exhausting just thinking of what’s yet to come."

An activist holds a sign that reads "I am a dreamer" during the #DreamActNow rally near the U.S. Capitol on December 6. Lauryn Gutierrez / Rewire

Read more personal stories from DACA recipients here at Rewire.

Once again, congressional Republicans are playing with the lives of 800,000 young people whose status in this country hangs in the balance. Their status now depends on how skillfully lawmakers can craft legislation that uses them as bargaining chips for tougher immigration laws–including more border wall funding, immigration agents, and increased enforcement of nonviolent “criminals.” In other words, to save “DREAMers,” as they’ve become known, Congress will have to agree to triple down on targeting the undocumented members of DREAMers’ mixed-status families.

Even among Americans who are otherwise largely unsympathetic to undocumented communities, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients strike a chord. The Obama-era immigration program, renewable every two years, allowed young, undocumented immigrants who met specific requirements, to access a work permit, driver’s license, and protection from deportation. President Donald Trump rescinded the program on September 5, giving Congress six months to come up with a legislative solution.

More than 100 DACA recipients are losing their status each day, as their DACA expires and they are now unable to renew it. A recent Fox News poll found that 83 percent of Americans polled were in favor of creating a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, which advocates say can be attributed to the widely embraced narrative surrounding them.

DACA recipients “should not be punished for the sins of their parents.” DACA recipients “came here through no fault of their own.” The “DREAMer narrative” has been embraced by members of the GOP, including Trump, because it is a tidy one. It creates a dichotomy between immigrants who are worthy of remaining in the United States and perhaps accessing a pathway to citizenship, and those who are not.

Those who are not are the undocumented family members in mixed-status families, presumably because they entered the United States without authorization and “knew better.” What is not criticized are the systems that force people to migrate or the United States’ inefficient immigration system that arbitrarily applies protections to one group and not another. It is easier to criticize and target undocumented immigrants, many whom are economic refugees and asylum seekers, for not coming “the right way” or for their supposed unwillingness to “stand in line,” when few Americans seem to understand that there is no current pathway for undocumented immigrants who have resided in the United States for decades, many of whom have unsuccessfully attempted to adjust their status and have spent thousands of dollars while doing so.

The DREAMer narrative emerged 16 years ago when the DREAM Act was first introduced. Now that the DREAM Act is in play again, there has been an uptick in the trope of the “good, deserving” immigrant. Young, undocumented immigrants fighting for the DREAM Act first used the narrative as a way to help Americans understand their plight, but it was soon weaponized against them. Many of those young people—now adults who have been doing immigrant rights organizing for at least a decade—no longer use the narrative, do not identify as “DREAMers,” and have actually gone to great pains to highlight how the narrative is harmful.

In 2014, organizer and activist Jonathan Perez wrote that as the DREAM Act movement continued to pick up steam, the word DREAMer became “an exclusive term for those who are model residents and future ‘Americans,'” implying that assimilation was a requirement. The narrative also threw a number of people under the bus, according to Perez, including undocumented parents, those with criminal records that match their U.S. counterparts’, and those from low-income communities of color. Perez also outlined how nonprofit organizations latched on to the narrative, using it against undocumented parents and painting a picture in which undocumented youth “had no agency in coming to the country.”

“So who was to blame? Our parents,” Perez wrote. “The dreamer narrative served as a wedge between youth who qualify for the DREAM Act and the rest of the community who didn’t. This exclusion extended to people with criminal records, prior deportations, and people who did not fit the age requirement to name a few. It became more and more apparent that if left in the hands of ‘advocates,’ our humanity would be defined by a piece of legislation, one that they could use for their own agenda while also doing what ‘advocates’ do best: make concessions to the state.”

Immigration is not a tidy subject, despite efforts by lawmakers to make it appear as such. After all, President Obama, who was often referred to as “deporter-in-chief” for his record-making deportations, infamously said he would prioritize “felons not families,” erasing the reality of many deported parents who had received felony charges for re-entering the country to reunite with their families.

While Trump publicly says he will protect DACA recipients if his enforcement requirements are met, advocates say his administration is quietly—and illegally—targeting DACA recipients for deportation by using court notices as a method to revoke their status, Newsweek reported.

And, according to young adults who spoke to Rewire, all of this is leaving them feeling incredibly conflicted. This echoes the sentiments shared by DACA recipients in a previous piece.

Near the U.S. Capitol, marchers hold signs that show how many days the people pictured have left until they lose their DACA protections during the #DreamActNow rally on December 6.

DACA was not just helpful to DACA recipients, but to their whole families; it was a blow to undocumented immigrant parents who were being criminalized and targeted in unprecedented ways. A bright spot was knowing their children wouldn’t have to face the same, and that their children, now legally employed and making livable wages, were stepping up as providers in the family.

Many DACA recipients told Rewire they are struggling with mental health issues as a result of the constant limbo they are in. One DACA recipient said it’s a “super unsettling feeling,” thinking about how her DACA will expire and she will find herself both the “hated undocumented parent” reviled in the DREAMer narrative, and the DREAMer at the same time. Here are just a few of their stories.

Name: Miriam
Age: 25
Location: Texas

I have three children and I work in hospital. I was able to get DACA as soon as Obama announced the program and it has done nothing but open up amazing doors for me and my kids. I was able to get my job and provide my children with a place of our own. I was also able to go back to college and finish a few classes that I was missing. I am currently trying to get certified to become a medical coder.

My DACA will expire November of 2019. Some of my friends are losing their DACA this coming year, and they’re scared beyond belief. My biggest fear is to be ripped away from my children. I don’t know how that would benefit them or me. My family will completely be torn apart. I try not to think about it.

It’s been hard. A lot of people I know and love are DACA recipients and some of them, like me, have started a family, so the uncertainty has been very difficult. But I try to stay positive. I hope that people see the great things [DACA recipients] have done, not just for this country, but for our families.

Name: Sergio
Age: 28
Location: Dallas, Texas

When I first received my work permit, I was able to find a better job. I also no longer feared what would happen if I lost a job, as more jobs could hire me now that I had a work permit. It’s benefited my community a lot. The anxiety subsided for a lot of us who were able to have the opportunity to grow and accomplish our goals without the fear of being deported.

My DACA lasts until February 14, 2019. Once I lose my DACA status, I’ll lose my job. I can see myself starting to get anxious and fall into depression with the threat of deportation hanging over me. It’s something I try not to think about.

I don’t like the idea of another temporary fix just to have the Dream Act be pushed away. The other bills don’t make sense, like there is no pathway to citizenship [or it takes years and years]. It’s creating a class of people that will be in limbo for a long time.

The uncertainty has not been good. I get anxiety and depression around issues of my immigration status, and also living in Texas, which has its own immigration issues, like with SB 4. It’s a crazy rollercoaster. I’ve cried about my status and have lost opportunities. I have so much I want to do. I want that fear of being deported to go away.

Name: Ebba (a pseudonym)
Age: 28
Location: Northeast

DACA enabled me to attend law school. I lived in a town where there was a checkpoint to leave. Without DACA, I would have never been able to leave the town. It also enabled me to work and provide for my younger siblings, for whom I have full custody. I have to provide for them and myself. I’ve also been able to work toward my JD and PhD. I excelled academically in undergrad, which helped me get a full ride to law school. I did well in law school, and the doctoral program offered me a full ride as well. I will complete both degrees in four years, while taking care of my younger siblings and daughter, all of whom are U.S. citizens.

I was about to go to my professional responsibility law class when I saw the video of Jeff Sessions rescinding DACA. I had absolutely no expectations that he would keep it in place, but it was still a cold bucket of water. I had to rethink what to do. I walked into class and tried to focus, feeling alone and detached. This huge decision that affected my livelihood and others’ was just announced, and here were my classmates checking Facebook and Twitter. The professor simply continued on with class. I felt rejected from society, as though I and other DACA recipients were not worthy enough to be discussed or acknowledged.

My DACA will expire in 2019. How will it impact my life? That is a difficult question. I have no idea. I did quite well in law school and my doctoral program, and I received an offer to become a professor at an R-1 university. This is my dream job. I don’t know what will happen in 2019. I hope I can continue to teach as a professor and to research to contribute to the betterment of the human condition.

I am so tired to be an immigrant under the new administration. At this point, I am not hopeful at all.

My mental and emotional health have been severely affected. What Trump is being allowed to do is to cause trauma to young immigrants. I do not understand his hate, bigotry, and racism. And what I really don’t understand is how he is allowed to continue. When he won, I felt as though people who voted for him were trying to show that we are the minority and that they can only give us as many rights and privileges as they want and that they can take them away when they want. It is a feeling of rejection and abjection.

Name: Christian Ugaz
Age: 24
Location: Weehawken, New Jersey

I’m currently a clinical research coordinator at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, working on a food insecurity project that aims to address food insecurity in East Harlem. I’m also applying to medical school. My goal is to become an MD/MPH and work in primary care to help underserved populations, like undocumented communities.

I got my DACA during the summer of my first year in college. I went to Saint Peter’s University for biochemistry and Latin American and Latino studies. That summer I got a job to work as an orientation team leader at my school and because of DACA, I was able to work that summer. With DACA I was able to feel somewhat comfortable in this country. Along with my three brothers, we were able to legally work and contribute to our family’s expenses. Since having DACA, I have worked during the summers while I was in school and was able to participate in programs that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to participate in. I conducted research at Princeton University’s chemistry department and had my work published. I worked at the New York State Health Foundation as a program intern. I was also able to work part time my senior year at the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care as an outreach intern working for a lung cancer screening program.

I have until May 2019 for my DACA. If any of the fixes don’t come to fruition, my dream will be jeopardized. I will hopefully be in medical school by then, and if nothing passes I won’t be able to practice medicine or get any fellowships or research opportunities. Without a work permit, so many doors will be closed. It’s a constant uncertainty and it sucks. It takes a huge toll on you physically and mentally. Not having security is scary, but we’re used to this. We’re resilient people and there was a point where we didn’t even have DACA and we still managed to thrive with what we had. This is just temporary. We’ll continue to fight until we win.

The ideal fix would be a clean DREAM Act, a DREAM Act where there will be no added parts that will throw other immigrant groups under the bus. I can’t have a clear conscience knowing that I received something at the cost of my parents being at a higher risk for getting detained. We need a pathway to citizenship because we have lived here a long time and have contributed to this country’s economy. It’s unfortunate that some people view our importance only based on the amount of money we bring into this country and not for the humanity we deserve, but that’s just how this country is.

Name: Carlos

I’m originally from Venezuela, arriving to the United States in the summer of 2000. My family was attacked by chavistas and hoped to have a better future. A few months later, my father passed away, leaving my mother, my younger brother, and myself on our own here. We sought to adjust status via asylum, but my mom applied shortly after 9/11 and you can imagine how things were back then.

Both my brother and I have DACA that expires in late 2019. DACA allowed me to finish my undergraduate studies. I learned about my undocumented status when I was applying to school. By my senior year, I was part of several honor societies, had won [several awards], and had achieved national AP scholar recognition. You can imagine the feeling of receiving endless acceptance letters, only to learn it wouldn’t be possible for me to attend any of my dream schools.

Within months of receiving my DACA, I traveled all over the country for job interviews in education and later in tech. It allowed me to be gainfully employed, participate in my community without fear, and most importantly, improve my family’s life.

I’ve been extended a certain level of privilege considering the circumstances [of my job in the tech industry] and am currently trying to adjust my status. That being said, I know nothing is certain and this process takes a very long time and a lot of money to complete. While my brother and I have had great opportunities through DACA, we also have large concerns about our mom’s future.

I think DACA fixes—and how much both politicians and communities are willing to accept—are tied to the unfortunate use of the “exceptional immigrant” narrative. It’s tiresome seeing, “It’s not their fault/Don’t punish them for the sins of their parents/etc.” I’m scared to see how much the Democrats accept in any proposals with regards to interior enforcement. I’m also deathly afraid of some unforeseen poison pill that may affect our parents or even people whose temporary protected status [TPS] may soon expire, seeing as how the current DHS approach to countries like Haiti is to completely deny reality.

Activists hold signs up in support of DACA and the Dream Act near the U.S. Capitol during the #DreamActNow rally on December 6.

“Chain migration” is also the new buzzword [everyone fears]. I’m afraid of any [emerging] bill that hinders any chances of my brother or I helping my mother. She can’t go back. We already left Venezuela due to her being politically persecuted. I can’t betray my own blood.

[The overwhelming focus on DACA] hasn’t helped [undocumented parents]. It’s created unnecessary divisions. We’re already attacked for our predicament, accused of being criminals and terrorists by nativists, or otherwise considered entitled, selfish “millennials.” Immigrant rights are human rights, and there’s no room to falter or break away from a fight for the future and dignity of each and every immigrant here.

Waking every day is both a miracle that we haven’t died and exhausting just thinking of what’s yet to come. Ever since the election, I’ve been on prescribed anti-depressants to calm what’s become a pervasive sense of panic. I opt to not think about my DACA expiring without a permanent solution. It would not just mean a tragic setback to my life, but that of my loved ones.

From Election Day, through inauguration, all the way to September 5, it’s been a series of battles. I acknowledge my privilege as it allows me to receive counseling and to both be prescribed and be able to afford the medicine I now need to deal with our current reality. [DACA recipients] know their way around social networks and the constant barrage of rumors, leaks, scoops, and reports are often detrimental to everyone’s mental health. It’s sometimes difficult to feel like a complete person when one’s humanity is chipped away in these insidious ways.

Name: Carlos C.V.
Age: 27
Location: Dallas, Texas

I graduated with a bachelor’s in education, work at a public school in Texas, and I’m pursuing my master’s in Leadership Ed. As soon as DACA was announced, I applied and received my permit in September 2012. It enabled me to live. Without the permit, I really do not know where I would be right now. With the permit, I was able to study abroad, travel the country, buy a car, work for one of the best school districts in Texas, have health insurance, and apply and be accepted to a master’s program. Most importantly, I’ve been able to live without looking over my shoulder.

Having a sustainable income has changed the way I live. Now I can economically help my family; I have also started a college fund for my little brother. In eight years the money will change his life. Everyone in this country has benefited directly or indirectly [from DACA]. I am a bilingual teacher, one of the professions that is highly in need. Every day I go into work knowing I’m changing the future of America, I’m shaping the generations to come. I could be the reason one of the students discovers something that could change the country. In terms of a big picture, DACA could have the biggest ripple effect in the nation.

My DACA expires in November 2019. When I heard the program was rescinded, it made me think about quitting school, selling my car, and moving back to my parents’ house to save money just in case we are sent back. I thought about my family [being deported], how hard it would be for my little brother to live in a country he has never seen. It made me think about my students, how it would affect them.

Name: Gabriela Pasache Villavicencio
Age: 21
Location: Northern Virginia

I first received DACA when I was a junior in high school around 2012. I thought I wouldn’t be able to do anything after high school, which was heartbreaking because that’s the only reason my mom brought me here, to go to college and get a degree. Now that I have DACA, I have the courage to go for the things I want to achieve. We bought our first car two years ago and since then, I’ve bought my own car. The DACA recipients I know have done so many great things because they don’t have the fear [of deportation] hanging over them.

The day that Jeff Sessions made the announcement rescinding DACA, I had an appointment with my lawyer to renew my DACA. I was angry, I was hurt; I felt the most vulnerable I have felt in a very long time. I felt betrayed. Like in those 12 minutes that the speech lasted, the United States had turned its back on me.

My DACA expires October 24, 2019. Because of the uncertainty, my mom has made the decision to go back to Perú. She’s the only family I really have here. I am currently in community college and about to transfer to a four-year university. I have two years to finish my bachelor’s. Because my mom is leaving, I don’t think I’ll have enough to cover tuition. I’m pretty lost as to what I’m going to do.

Overall I want people to know I am not here to hurt your country—our country. I was practically raised here, this is all I know. I have pride and love for this country like I do for my motherland. I tear up for the national anthem, even though I know in my heart that I’m not included in it because I am still not free.

Regardless of that, I will not go back in to the shadows and become invisible again. I am tired of being quiet and frankly too angry to continue to do so. I hope by telling some of my story, I can reach others that have a voice that won’t be dismissed to shout with us, to create a cry so loud and strong that we will not be ignored and change can finally happen.