DACA: How Can We Better Understand?

(Photo: Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

*Name changed for privacy

               Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, is the "use of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action against an individual for a period of time." This period is two years, along with an opportunity to renew it. Many immigrants came to the US as children fall under this, and are known as Dreamers. This name references a failed Congress bill, called the DREAM Act, which sought to allow illegal immigrants brought to the US as children to become US citizens eventually. While the bill failed, the name stuck, and the people who fall under DACA (between the ages of 16-35), are called Dreamers.

               However, there are still many misconceptions as well as misinformation about DACA and who has it, as well as how it works. I spoke with a DACA student named Adrian* to get more information. One misconception is that DACA gives deferred status to anyone and everyone. That is not true. Firstly, you have to have come to the US as a child, remained continuously in the US for seven years, and must be between 16 and 31. However, even if you meet all that criteria, DACA is not guaranteed. The government asks for every single record in your life, according to the student. This includes things as menial as elementary school grades, really anything to prove that you were in the US continuously. DACA students must reapply every two years. Even when reapplying, there is no guarantee that you will be granted deferred action. Every time you reapply there is a $450 fee along with a mandate for new fingerprints and new photos.

               Another misconception is that those who have DACA are given government aid. According to Adrian, that is not true. While DACA allows one to have a legal job, pay taxes, a work Social Security Number (which allows you to apply for everything that requires an SSN), and a driver's license, it does not give financial aid to anyone under DACA. That means no FAFSA, no public student loan, no food stamps, welfare, or any government assistance. As a result, for Adrian, he takes out private loans and pays $15,000 out of pocket each school year. Even so, he has worked for many years, and says he cannot remember a weekend in college he went without working.  

               People claim that those who have DACA have a more propensity to commit a crime, or are criminals. In fact, perhaps only a few individuals have a felony who are given DACA status. Other times, if you have a misdemeanor, you go through the justice system; however, if you have a DUI, your DACA status is revoked, and you are deported. Still others say DACA paves the way for undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship. According to Adrian, that is incorrect. If you apply for citizenship, you have to have sponsors and it takes 5+ years to be accepted without a guarantee. During this time,  you do not have papers or anything else permitting you to work.

               The lives of undocumented immigrants, as well as kids who are under DACA, tends to be difficult. Adrian said that during high school, his entire family, five total, were living on $18,000 a year. He did not know about the financial struggles until he was old enough but it has taught him humility.  Many parents  and undocumented immigrants in general take whatever job that they can get. As Adrian put it, "Your rough time was very different than my rough time because my parents didn't have choices." When it comes down to it, DACA is about giving more choices to undocumented citizens.

               While DACA allows quite a few things, it does not give as many rights as you would think. The system is setup to allow immigrants to come to the US; it isn't setup to maintain them legally. All the money that Adrian's family makes is reported to the government, however, they are not allowed to have financial help from the government. Moreover, those who come to the US may have all the credentials they need, but cannot get into the job sector that they are trained for; as a result, many of them are forced to take jobs that others normally wouldn't. This is out of necessity, not desire.  

               So what can Regis students do? The answer is, well, not much. Sadly, as Adrian said, those who are undocumented, or grew up in a family where the parents are undocumented are taught to be unseen. At this point, kids who have DACA are more afraid for their families than themselves, because if they tell someone, that gives that person the power to destroy lives. As a result, as Adrian said, "We're the people that have been taught not to take up space.” The best thing to do, Adrian said, is to respect and understand that others are going through what you cannot fully comprehend. The general student body needs to understand that right now, DACA students feel the need to be quiet, to continue working, and to keep struggling, because it is not necessarily the time to speak out, says Adrian. DACA students are here, but they are not visible because they risk losing their family; and if your friend tells you that they have DACA, then it is important to understand that they are giving a huge piece of themselves to you. They are not only giving part themselves, they are making their entire family vulnerable. Respect it.

Margaret Gentry Staff Reporter