9 Important Perspectives From Those Affected by DACA
09.08.17
Collage by Emily Zirimis

On September 5th, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the work and education program that has protected 800,000 young people from being deported, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), will end in six months per the Trump administration.

Started by President Barack Obama in 2012, DACA is a program designed to protect undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children from deportation. It’s also provided them with legal work options and the ability to get a driver’s license, and made access to education, home-ownership and the building of credit possible. To qualify for the program, DACA candidates had to be over the age of 15, not convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor, not be considered a threat to national security or public safety, and must be either in school, graduated from high school or discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces or Coast Guard. Once qualified, DACA permits allowed recipients to work and receive their driver’s license legally for up to two years before needing to reapply.

With President Trump and his administration’s intent to discontinue the program now public, Congress has six months to pass legislation to keep DACA functioning and its recipients qualified and enrolled in the program. There are four pieces of pending legislation that could do so if passed, but a long battle is expected in a Republican-controlled Senate and House of Representatives.

The reception of this policy has largely been outrage among Americans, with a recent poll conducted by Politico indicating that only 15 percent of polled citizens found it appropriate to deport DACA recipients, while 76 percent believed DACA recipients should be permitted to stay in the U.S. either as citizens or permanent legal residents.

The macro issues and implications of discontinuing DACA are massive, and as many unaffected Americans are learning the exact details of the program for the first time, it can be easy to lose sight of exactly what is at stake, and what people are able to do to both combat the legislation and support those in their communities affected.

To get a fuller picture of what comes next, I spoke to people across the country affected by the DACA developments: both those enrolled and professionals working in law and education to combat the devastating effects this legislation could have on the 800,000 people who have enrolled in DACA in the last five years.

Note: some names have been changed.

1. What’s your experience with the DACA program and how will its repeal affect you?

“I am enrolled in the program, and have been since 2013. The possibility of being deported is going to rise incredibly. Finding a job that pays minimum wage will be difficult. Everything’s going to feel a bit more hopeless.”
-F, DACA recipient

“I have represented many law-abiding, industrious young adults in obtaining their DACA status. They have impressed me as positive, well-meaning, intelligent and valuable members of the community. It will impact my community, my state and local economy, and this country negatively, not only by its impact on the 800,000 DACA recipients, but also by sending a message of racism from the highest office in the nation. It’s truly demoralizing.”
-Sandra Feist, immigration lawyer

“I am currently enrolled. I won’t be able to work anymore and support myself, and would be vulnerable to deportation.”
-Johan, DACA recipient

“As an immigration attorney, I have clients with DACA. It will affect them immensely. They will lose their jobs and have to stop their educations. They will once again face the constant terror of imminent deportation. For five years they have made plans and built families and now everything they have done or have thought of doing is in danger. It is heartbreaking. For me, as a lawyer, I’m trying to help clients plan what other avenues for deportation relief are available, though for some people there is nothing or almost nothing.”
-Dara Gell, immigration lawyer

“Through my role in undergraduate admission, I work with many DACA recipients who are seeking to continue their education and gain a college degree. These students are some of our brightest and highest achieving students. They succeed in college while not being able to take out any loans. It is a major struggle and not everyone makes it to graduation.

We have to watch some students have their dreams halted. As counselors in higher education, we need to find a new way to help these incoming students achieve their goals with a college education. We also have to help counsel and simply be a shoulder to lean on for current DACA students that may suddenly have to change their career plans or are simply afraid of what the future might hold for them.”
-Mark, Assistant Director of Admission

“I am enrolled but my work permit expires in December. My partner and I are married and I have obtained permanent residency so luckily, I will not be negatively impacted.”
-Lizbeth, DACA recipient

“My city has many undocumented people, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that our mayor would support such an effort. That’s terrifying to me.”
-Emily, law student

“I currently work at a school that has a roughly 20-25 percent DACA recipient population. Prior to this, I worked in after school and mental health programs geared toward inner city, and specifically Latinx populations, many of whom were either born here to newly arrived undocumented parents or were brought over as young children and were themselves undocumented.

While it will not affect me personally, it will effect a lot of the young people I’ve had the privilege of knowing. Many of the students at the school I work at now are graduate level and have a certain ability to navigate themselves. However, since Trump’s election I have received calls and had many face-to-face talks with parents of the young children that I worked with in my previous jobs because they are more directly in the line of legal fire when it comes to the immediate consequences of the rescinding of DACA.”
-John, social worker

“Before marrying an American citizen, I was a DACA recipient.”
-Mariah, DACA recipient

2. What options does the removal of DACA leave you with?

“Under-the-table work, mostly. Craigslist odd jobs. And I’d most likely end up having to move back into a very abusive household.”
-F, DACA recipient

“DACA recipients, their spouses and children, employers and friends and family, have few good options for alternate forms of status and work authorization.”
-Sandra Feist, immigration lawyer

“If this happened, I would have to drop out of my program and would have to either go back to Mexico or work for minimum wage or less wherever I could get hired.”
-Lizbeth, DACA recipient

“None really — not being able to legally work or drive really puts a damper on everything.”
-Johan, DACA recipient

“I need to figure out new ways to help students seeking a degree and hoping to be able to use that degree once they graduate.”
-Mark, Assistant Director of Admission

3. What was your reaction to learning that the Trump administration would be halting the program?

“Intense, penetrating horror. The thought of ICE kicking down the door and taking me away popped into head. Might be a bit over the top, but I couldn’t keep the thought from my head. It played over and over again.”
-F, DACA recipient

“I felt uncertain about the future for the children I may someday have, for the friends I have who were not born here and whose parents and loved ones were not born here, and I found myself feeling mentally lost. The reason for this is that, as a law student, I am taught of the importance and necessity of being able to view and argue controversial opinions from a perspective other than my own, and I struggled to be able to do that, because I could think of no justification for this decision apart from simple racism and xenophobia.

I am currently being taught immigration law by a professor who works as a professional immigration attorney, who was one of the lawyers camping out at the airport providing writs of habeas corpus to people impacted by the travel ban enacted by the Executive Order of a few months past. This professor has worked on constitutions for countries all across the world, and was explaining to us all the ways that DREAMers and undocumented people legally affect the United States — statistically, very few are unemployed, almost none have any sort of criminal record, they are legally ineligible for TANF, SNAP or Social Security, yet they pay into those programs, effectively creating a surplus with which these programs function. With these facts taken into consideration, there is no plausible reason to cut off DACA benefits in the name of economic safety or national security. Having heard this from my professor, I was even more disgusted than I’d been when I’d first heard about the news.”
-Emily, law student

“It’s demoralizing, but unsurprising. We can’t expect a reality TV star to think deeply on the lives of the residents of this country.”
-Sandra Feist, immigration lawyer

“It was a long time coming, so I wasn’t surprised.”
-Johan, DACA recipient

“I am profoundly ashamed of my country. I want to feel hopeful that Congress will pass the DREAM Act but I just feel certain they won’t. I’m upset and so incredibly sad for the DREAMers and their families. I also worry that, when talking about DACA, people will be quick to villainize DREAMers’ parents for the sake of the narrative that DREAMers are victims. It is true that most of them came here through their parents without a conscious choice, but the they love their parents. These parents brought their children here for better lives, and without malice. So I hope we can talk about DACA in the future without demonizing DREAMers’ parents, who are suffering terribly at this time with the fear of what their children will endure now with the end of DACA.”
-Dara Gell, immigration lawyer

“I was not surprised. His rhetoric showed that he has an intense hatred for these people. I am just disappointed that this is the regression our country has taken for people who love this country and want to contribute to what makes America (already) great.”
-Mark, Assistant Director of Admission

“I was not surprised but I felt sad and disheartened.”
-Lizbeth, DACA recipient

“Absolute revulsion.”
-John, Social Worker

“I was appalled and horrified. DACA being discontinued does not affect my life personally anymore, but even a few months ago this would have been a different story. In the last year, I have married an American citizen and because of this, I have recently received permanent residence. And though I could not be more grateful for the luxury of a green card, I also understand that there is little that separates me from the DREAMers.

My green card was not based on my merit as an individual, my contribution to my community, my education or my 18 years of residing in the United States. It was not based on my family’s consistent taxes or on how dedicatedly I tried to embrace American culture, laws and customs. My green card was based on my marriage to someone who happened to be born in the United States. This is not a rational, humane or just way to operate a system. It is not just that what I have cannot be earned by 800,000 contributive members of this society. It is not humane to remove basic relief from these 800,000 people before a decision is made by a legislative branch that has failed, time and time again, to reach a verdict on a 16 year old bill. For a country of immigrants that is of the people, for the people and by the people, this blatant disregard of 800,000 defenseless young individuals is neither rational nor productive.

If, in the end of this, the Untied States of American decides to reject these 800,000 hard working, educated people, it will not primarily be the DREAMers who will lose. It will be the USA.”
-Mariah, DACA recipient

4. How have you gone about discussing the discontinuation of DACA with people in your life?

“Being an undocumented resident isn’t something I’ve shared publicly for safety reasons, so the only people I’ve really talked about this with are my family and my significant other. It’s been difficult trying to have any sort of conversation that goes anywhere with my folks, because they refuse to see the discontinuation of DACA as something we should be worrying about “this moment.” Their way of helping is simply telling me to stop researching ways to protect myself and worrying myself to death, and wait for Congress to step in.

My significant other has been a lot more helpful and understanding, and I can’t properly express how much I appreciate and love them helping me through this. But with the exception of an online friend, I don’t personally know anybody who’s going through the same thing. It’s a really isolating fear. And it’s real. It used to be just a horrible thought I’d conjure up on a bad day, but now it’s a real fear, something that can really happen. I can be deported from the country I’ve lived most of my life in, the only country I have friends, and a real life.”
-F, DACA recipient

“Even cities that DO have sanctuary policies have been known to face retaliation from the government: These are often the cities where parents are detained picking up their children up from school, or people are detained at courthouses after filing for protective orders for the purpose of abuse prevention. I don’t have the power to prevent that currently, and I may never. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want the people around me to know that I care about them and their loved ones, that I am their ally, and I can be a confidante. But it certainly bothers me that I can’t do much more.”
-Emily, law student

“Social media, in-person conversations, reaching out to my elected officials, and reaching out to the media to share my thoughts in interviews.”
-Sandra Feist, immigration lawyer

“Most of my friends know I’m on DACA.”
-Johan, DACA recipient

“Most people in my life are either connected to DACA somehow or extremely politically aware. We talk about our anger and about protesting and how to support the DREAMers going forward.”
-Dara Gell, immigration lawyer

“At University of St. Francis we have formed a task force to help our current students impacted by the discontinuation and to help students that may seek to come to us in the future.”
-Mark, Assistant Director of Admission

“I have shared my story to try to humanize the issue.”
Lizbeth, DACA recipient

“Before this announcement, I had been receiving calls from the parents of the kids I used to work with so now it’s just ramped up. I’ve made it clear that I am there to help them navigate things as best as we can. They know there are lots of legal challenges facing them in the near future and feel very confused and hopeless about how to take these things on. I fear that many of them will face the consequences of this administration’s actions just by virtue of not know what they can do to combat it on a personal level. So I have been making conscious efforts to pop in to the program when I can and talk with parents and youth alike. Sometimes knowing you have people you can call or talk to who are willing to help can really change the way people approach an issue.”
-John, Social Worker

“I have taken every opportunity possible to talk about the effects of the end of DACA.”
-Mariah, DACA recipient

What you can do now

Educate yourself. There’s a lot written on the history of DACA, its positive effects on recipients and what the negative implications of discontinuing it would be — here are some excellent ones from NPR and Vox.

Once you understand the issue, vocalize it. Use your voice among colleagues, at protests and on social media to spread accurate and researched information to further the case that DACA should not be discontinued.

Contact your representatives. The fate of DACA is completely dependent on what decisions are made in Congress in the next six months, making it critical for citizens to urge their reps to support pending legislation that would protect DACA recipients. Find yours here.

Support organizations who are fighting on behalf of DACA recipients. Donating money to or volunteering on the ground with major social forces like the National Immigration Law Center, Immigrant Defense Project, and the Young Center for Immigrant’s Rights are excellent ways to contribute. Seek out local and community-based efforts, as well.

Find reliable news sources and stay up to date. Where there’s so much disruption in the political climate, find and follow reliable sources on DACA in order to stay informed in the coming weeks and months. We recommend following accounts run by United We Dream, Define American and FWD.us to start.

Show up. There are protests taking place across the country to show support for DACA recipients and their loved ones and outrage at an administration who would put their rights at risk.

How are you feeling? Will you be directly affected by the DACA repeal?

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  • Maria Alcoser

    First time commenting, long time reader here!
    As someone who is directly affected by DACA I’m super happy that websites like Man Repeller are informing their communities about immigration and Dreamers. Sometimes it’s crippling to see events unfold knowing that I can’t do anything and my future and that of many others is in the hands of a country so politically divided.
    In the period that I had DACA my sisters and I started our own boutique. We became our own bosses and for that opportunity I am very grateful. It’s hard to put into words what I’m feeling. I’m hopeful that congress will pass legislation but at the same time I’m terrified that my sisters and I will lose everything.
    Thank you for all that you do ❤

    • Bee

      I know it’s not much, but you and your sisters are in my thoughts and I’m hoping that everything works out positively for you. Just know that there are so many people rallying for you!

  • Julia

    Thank you for providing specific perspective and insight into the challenges that DACA recipients face while pursuing higher education. These students overcome incredible obstacles to make it to college, only to navigate a system that isn’t built to support them and often without access to any financial aid or loans. As a fellow admissions representative, it breaks my heart and keeps me up at night.

  • Lil

    The world is literally on fire (wildfires from LA to Serbia), there’s two historical superstorms occuring within the same week;

    and yet Trump’s focus is on deporting individuals who only want a better future for themselves and their families.

    Thank you MR for raising awareness and for being a beacon of light in these trying times.

  • Natasha

    Thank you MR for this enlightening and important piece. xx