Sisters Zuleyma and Saira Barajas felt a flood of emotions when they heard the announcement this week that DACA would be phased out over the next six months.
DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was an executive order signed by then President Barack Obama in 2012 to give those who arrived in the country before the age of 16 a work permit and a two-year reprieve from deportation. It allowed thousands of young people who had grown up in the United States to pursue educational and work dreams.
The Barajas sisters, ages 27 and 25 respectively, and residents of Van Nuys, came to the United States 17 years ago from their native Mexico. DACA has been their lifeline. Like many of the other nearly 800,000 DREAMers they were stumped, angered and left tearful by the announcement — but not yet defeated.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday, Sept. 5, that the immigration program set forth by President Obama would continue for the next six months, to give Congress time to come up with an alternative plan.
Zuleyma and Saira are hopeful that by staying active in the fight, it could pressure members of Congress to finally back the DREAM Act (which stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act), a legislative proposal first presented in 2001 as a multi-phase process for qualifying alien minors in the United States that would first grant conditional residency and, upon meeting further qualifications, permanent residency.
The bill has been introduced several times in Congress since 2012 but has not been passed.
“I feel relief a little that we have six more months to continue fighting,” Zuleyma said. “We’re not going to be comfortable with another legislation that puts us in the same place where someone else who comes into office takes it away.
“We’re going to use this extension to continue fighting for something that’s more permanent,” Zuleyma said.
Zuleyma said that because of DACA, “I got a really good job in banking. Otherwise, there’s no way I would have been able to get that opportunity. I started making a better living, I purchased a car, I traveled.”
In short, the program changed Zuleyma’s life.
It was the same for Saira
“I wasn’t exposed to the low paying jobs (I was getting before),” she said.
An Alien Land
Unfortunately, Saira lost her job last year when her application for renewal of her work permit was not processed in time by immigration officials, who blamed the delay due to a backlog of applications. She was still able to travel back to her native country due to Advance Parole, a permit that allows DREAMers to leave and re-enter the country.
But what she found was not home, but an alien land.
“I wasn’t really able to see myself living there, do the things that I do here. It’s a country I don’t know,” Saira said.
The sisters say they’re not afraid of going back into the shadows of the undocumented world and remain positive that this time Congress will find a way to pass the DREAM Act.
“This doesn’t mean the end for us,” Saira said. “I look at it positively. I’ve always thought that there’s a chance. It just feels that the conversation is happening more on both sides. Before, a lot of people were not open to the conversation because of Obama. I think the bills that they are proposing, there’s a chance.”
It’s the same hope expressed by Edgar Gonzalez, who’s become a leader in the Fight for $15 campaign in Los Angeles.
“My parents brought me to the United States from Mexico when I was eight years old. Since then, I’ve followed all the rules, earned a 4.0 in high school, and worked hard in fast-food jobs to provide for my two-year old daughter. President Trump’s decision to end DACA is a cruel attack on working people and immigrants, and threatens to tear me away from my daughter and the country that I call home,” Gonzalez said.
“But I refuse to retreat to the shadows… I’m going to keep speaking out and doing everything in my power to stop the President’s deportation machine. President Trump must keep DACA in place until Congress can take action to keep families like mine together.”
“A National Tragedy”
Many have criticized Trump for putting an end to DACA, which many pro immigrant groups see as a way to help those who were brought as children to the only country they know as their own.
“It’s a sad day when the future of so many of this country’s finest young people is sacrificed to a marginal, mean-spirited group connected to the President’s far-right,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “These young people have been here all their lives. They are, in every way, American kids. Now it falls to Congress to keep DACA in place until legislators can pass a DREAM Act or immigration reform bill that ensures that these hardworking young people can continue to pursue their aspirations and contribute to America’s future.”
“Today our country is announcing its intention to deport more than 800,000 young people. This is a national tragedy and a moral challenge to every conscience,” said Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez who urged leaders in Washington to set aside partisan differences and come together to find a permanent legislative solution to DACA.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) — an organization that opposes illegal immigration — was one group that applauded Trump’s decision.
“In our view, DACA was an unconstitutional abuse of executive authority by President Obama. Before implementing the program in 2012, President Obama stated on 22 previous occasions that he did not have the power to grant ‘de facto’ amnesty and work authorization to entire classes of illegal aliens. His subsequent efforts to grant similar blanket deferments were found to be unconstitutional by the courts,” said FAIR President Dan Stein.
But not everyone thinks the same way.
A new poll by the Morning Consult and Politico found an overwhelming majority of Americans support DREAMers. More than three quarters (76 percent) support the idea of allowing DREAMers to become citizens or to remain as permanent residents. The support comes both from Democrats and Republicans.
This is the type of support that gives hope to Zuleyma and Saira.
“Now all we have to do is keep fighting and trying to get Congress to make up their minds,” Saira said. “I’m hopeful, but I’m also realistic. I know we have to fight more than ever.”