Janeth Mendez was a 14-year-old teen when she came to the USA with her father in 2000. She and her family, like many other immigrants, believed they could have a better way of life in this country.
And when she became a DACA recipient in 2016, Mendez felt she had found a way to stay in the US until she became a citizen.
Fast-forward to today. Mendez, now 36 and living in Los Angeles, has four children. They are all US citizens. But she and her husband are still undocumented immigrants, meaning they constantly live in fear of deportation, although she has been able to renew her DACA status every two years, as required.
She and others in her situation feel let down and isolated by their DACA status; there have been promises made by the federal government for a path to citizenship that have not been kept. Mendez is upset and disappointed at the lack of action by senators and congressmen pushing and prioritizing immigration reform, despite the efforts made by the immigration community to come out and vote for them.
“We elect them into power, and they love to take pictures with us, but they don’t come through on their promises to the immigrant community,” Mendez said.
Mendez was one of several undocumented immigrants, from ages 19 to 49, that traveled from Los Angeles to Washington, DC this week on the 10-year anniversary of DACA, to push for a clearer path to citizenship.
They were part of a 14-member group selected for the trip by the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). They included immigrants under DACA, parents of children under DACA, and an undocumented immigrant who was unable to receive DACA protection due to the previous administration. There were also CHIRLA staff members present.
The delegation met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) during their visit to confirm their support for broad immigration reform. On Wednesday, June 15, the coalition joined with United We Dream — a nonprofit immigrant organization — for a rally outside of Capitol Hill.
“The ultimate goal is citizenship,” said Fatima Flores-Lagunas, the political director of CHIRLA. “Last year, we fought for an update in the registry dates. … Those negotiations did not go as expected because of congressional gridlock, so we’re back to continue advocating for that.
“[Congress] still has to pass some kind of reconciliation bill, and we’re demanding that they include that registry update so that we can finally get citizenship, but also the relief that our communities have fought for.”
DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — was created in 2012 by the Obama administration. To date, over 800,000 immigrants have been protected by the program.
During his 2020 campaign for President, Joe Biden promised to create such a pathway for DACA recipients.
However, there is still no path to citizenship within the program and applicants have to renew their status every two years.
Flores-Lagunas, 31, first came to the country from Mexico when she was 6. She used to live in Omaha, Nebraska, before moving to Los Angeles last year. She said she considers the US to be her home, but also mentioned that she hasn’t had the opportunity to visit her family in Mexico for over 20 years.
Flores-Lagunas has been a DACA recipient since 2013. Having spent the majority of her life as an undocumented, she is motivated to fight for immigration rights. She started doing work as an organizer before applying for CHIRLA in 2021.
“I knew that my voice was essential in the fight for immigration, and I knew that CHIRLA, with the power that they have and the influence, that I would be instrumental to that fight,” Flores-Lagunas said.
Like Mendez, Flores-Lagunas said she is in a constant state of anxiety and uncertainty due to being undocumented, which has an impact on her mental health.
“In the time we’ve had DACA, I could’ve had my permanent residency,” Flores-Lagunas said. “I’ve been undocumented for 20 plus years, and half of that [time] I have proven my worth every single time.”
She also feels that the Biden administration has failed the immigration community by not keeping its promise to create a path to citizenship.
High on the list of reforms, CHIRLA is seeking to update the “registry.” Current US immigration law contains a provision, called a registry, that allows certain non-citizens who are long-term residents — but who are undocumented or under a form of temporary immigration status — to register for Lawful Permanent Resident status.
To qualify, individuals must have entered the country on or before a specific date, which is referred to as the registry date. The problem is that the date was last updated in 1986; the registry date is Jan. 1, 1972.
Flores-Lagunas explained that an update to the registry date was included in the Build Back Better Bill, but was swapped out at the last minute for “parole in place” — a policy that allows a foreign national who came to the US without authorization to stay for a certain period of time. No path to citizenship or residency was given.
“It feels like every single time, we’re deprioritized, we’re taken down a notch, down a notch [and] down another notch, and it has been over 30 years that this has gone on,” Flores-Lagunas said.
“It’s frustration, it’s anger at the administration. It’s also a wake-up call with the fact that election season is right around the corner … and I’m honestly concerned. There’s a lot of voter fatigue. There’s no excitement in what’s happening.”
Mendez said her goal was to convince members of Congress to create a tangible pathway to citizenship. She said that neither she nor her community should have to wait for the next president to finally achieve that pathway.
“DACA is not enough,” Mendez said. “If changes were to be made … it should be expanded because not enough people benefit from it. I, myself, only benefit from it because I was lucky enough to be able to attend college and high school here in the United States, which made me eligible for DACA.
“But my [spouse] did not get to benefit from DACA. I believe that DACA is not enough, but that it should be expanded to be able to at least provide our community that benefit and that protection.”