*Editor’s note: Due to the current political climate and protection of sources in the story, The Journal has given sources alternative names.
The arid desert climate surrounds a town on the Mexican-American border. Here, law enforcement collaborates with the drug cartel, and it is not unheard of to be threatened in your own place of business or harassed on your way to school. It is also not out of the question that a seven-year-old would steal your car with his friends.
This was the hard reality for one family of four: a father, mother, and two daughters living in Nogales, Mexico. The family left the dangers of Nogales for a better future and more opportunities in St. Louis ten years ago. Now, one of the daughters is studying International Business at Webster.
The road to study at Webster was not an easy one for Maria. It was almost impossible until five years ago when the Obama administration established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This executive order allowed Maria to exchange her three jobs for a better job and pursue a university education.
“DACA came, and it was like, ‘This is perfect. This is made for people like me,” Maria said. “It seemed like they did it for me. It was a dream come true.”
Maria has lived in America since she was 12-years-old, attended American schools and found a home here in St. Louis. She said her illegal immigration status prevented her from attending college right out of high school and she even missed a year of college before the Obama administration passed DACA.
“I couldn’t go to school if I wanted to. I couldn’t get a better job. I was just stuck,” Maria said.
Maria’s parents also experienced a feeling of not being able to move forward in their lives and careers back in Mexico. This lack of opportunity is one of the reasons John, Maria’s father, dreamed of coming to the U.S.
“Here if you work hard, you can make progress,” John said. “If you have one dream, you can make it a reality.”
A threat on John’s life from a drug cartel and the potential kidnapping of his wife and kids pushed the family to pack up their bags and leave. They moved to the U.S. under a two-year tourist visa. After the two years, the family became undocumented immigrants.
DACA allowed Maria to follow her dreams and apply for a better job, buy a house, get a driver’s license and go to school, but she still faced barriers. Maria applied to a public school before Webster, but the university charged her more because of her international status. She could not afford this and felt blocked. She then started at Webster after the university gave her a $10,000 grant and during this time, she met her husband who also relies on DACA for his university education at Lindenwood University.
This past September, the Trump Administration announced the end of DACA and gave Congress six months to pass legislation to replace the program.
Diane Eikenberry, the Associate Director of Policy for the National Justice Immigration Center (NJIC), said the idea that the negative effects of ending DACA will start in March after the Trump Administration’s deadline is wrong. She said many are already losing their protections.
“The Trump administration created a problem when it terminated DACA, and it is awfully disingenuous of them to kick the can over to the legislative branch,” Eikenberry said.
The possible eradication of DACA leads to an uncertain future for Maria, her husband, and others under its protection. They could lose their jobs, access to education, and could even be deported. Maria has a couple more years under DACA, but her husband only has until next November. They could have to leave their house and the life they built here to flee for Mexico.
Eikenberry said, even though there are those in the government who would say U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is only going after those with criminal records, this is not the case. She said DACA recipients are not as safe from deportation as some would lead them to believe.
“ICE is actively going after any person they can,” Eikenberry said. “If they can make out any sort of claim that a person violated immigration laws in any way, they are taking action.”
Maria said her and her husband worry about having to start over in a place that does not feel like home anymore. She said it could be dangerous for them to go back. Maria and her father said people in Mexico think those coming from the U.S. are rich. Because of this, those coming back are often kidnapped, robbed, held for ransom and sometimes even killed. One of John’s nephews faced this exact situation and barely escaped with his life.
Eikenberry said NJIC and others are pushing for a “clean” DREAM act. This would give those who were DACA recipients and minors who came over to the U.S. as children with no criminal record. They hope this will be passed with the budget bill on Dec. 8.
Maria said DACA gave her and others the opportunity to give back to America and to become a part of American society instead of living on the outskirts.
“We are good people,” Maria said. “This is our home. We work, we go to school just like everybody else. We have so much to give, and they are limiting us.”
John said people only see one perspective and do not see the rationale behind DACA. John said they only see their preconceived notions about people coming from Mexico. Maria agreed and said people accuse individuals like her of being criminals even though it is almost impossible to receive citizenship.
John said this one decision could potentially hurt the country and around 800,000 people under DACA protection. He said people fail to see the benefit of immigrants and DACA recipients. John said people should think before making a decision on DACA.
“When you make a decision like that, you push good people out of society,” John said. “They feel it, and you create a social problem.”
Eikenberry said if legislation is not passed in replacement of DACA, there will be both social and economic repercussions. She said this would cause the separation of families and financial disruption for those with DACA recipients as financial providers and the corporations employing the recipients.
“DACA recipients are your fellow classmates. They are your neighbors. They are absolutely woven into the fabric of American society,” Eikenberry said. “I think the idea that these people find themselves in danger of permanent exile, the breakup of families and the economic disruption is unimaginable. It is something that cannot and should not happen.”