At 13, Reyna received her first diary. Since then, she has been rigorously scheduled almost every day of her life: showers, meals, study time, university applications. If she planned carefully, she believed, she would go to college and one day become a civil rights lawyer.
But Reyna, who was 2 when her mother transported her across the border from Mexico to the United States in 2006, is in the country without legal status. Perhaps most importantly, she was cut from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — better known as DACA — an Obama-era policy that granted certain young immigrants work permits and protection against deportation.
There are 611,470 recipients of DACA, according to USCIS data as of December 31, 2021, and more than 800,000 people have been enrolled since its inception. To be eligible, the so-called Dreamers had to have been in the United States since 2007, had arrived before they were 16, and had been under the age of 31 in 2012. They also had to meet certain education and criminal history.
As DACA turns 10 today, it’s bittersweet for Reyna, who graduated from high school in Los Angeles this year along with about 100,000 other young immigrants without legal status and without DACA. according to a study published in May.
They are coming of age without the benefits and protections enjoyed by their older peers because they were too young to qualify for the program before the Trump administration decided to end it five years ago and a court ruling limited the government to processing DACA renewals, not new applications. In July, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is due to hear oral arguments in the case – which is likely to reach the Supreme Court – which will decide whether such a large program is legal.
Without DACA, Reyna is at a disadvantage. The 18-year-old, who missed DACA when Trump began to unravel it, is not protected from deportation and is unable to work legally as she is not eligible for a work permit .
“I’m so used to planning. It stresses me out that I can’t really plan my future,” said Reyna, who did not want to be fully identified due to her lack of legal status. “Even if I go to university, will I be able to find a job afterwards?”
Many of those in the post-DACA generation have friends, older siblings, or cousins who are covered by DACA. They saw them move from the margins of society to a kind of middle class lifestyle.
Those with DACA have pursued careers. They bought houses in better neighborhoods. They helped their parents financially. They opened bank accounts and saved money. DACA recipients contribute $3.4 billion a year to the US Treasury and $42 billion to annual GDP, according to a 2018 report by the American Action Forum, a center-right think tank in Washington.
“DACA is unquestionably the most successful immigration integration policy of decades,” said Roberto Gonzales, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in immigrant youth and DACA.
“At the same time, these younger siblings, maybe cousins, younger people within the same communities haven’t had the same opportunities. They are 15, 16 and they would be eligible to get DACA and take after school jobs and get drivers licenses and start thinking about college,” he said. “Instead, they are stuck.”
Janet Napolitano was secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in 2012 when young immigrant activists persuaded the Obama administration to shield them from deportation. Reflecting on the thousands of people excluded from DACA, Napolitano told The Times that she wishes the program had included the ability to permanently adjust dates so those who arrived in the United States after 2007 could apply.
“We’ve now had all these young people who have been in DACA and they’ve created their own legacy,” said Napolitano, who served as president of the University of California from 2013 to 2020. all potentially in deportation proceedings, this just seems to me inconsistent with good immigration enforcement.
Over the past decade, the gap between those who have benefited from DACA and those who have not has continued to widen.
Many high schools and colleges have established student services and trained staff on how to help students with CADD, but most students without legal status are not eligible.
“A lot of policy and institutional responses are way behind in trying to meet their needs and meet needs that are very different now than those of DACA recipients,” Gonzales said.
This was the case for Kelly, a 19-year-old who left China for the United States five years ago. She asked The Times to withhold her surname as she is in the country without legal status.
Kelly, a sophomore studying clinical nutrition at UC Davis, is not eligible for DACA because she arrived past the 2007 deadline. She arrived legally but overstayed her tourist visa.
She was “a bit sad” when she realized that DACA and its benefits were simply out of reach. She faced a learning curve on how to qualify for college financial aid. Although university staff wanted to help her, she said, their experience with students without legal status seemed limited to students with DACA protection.
Finally, Kelly determined that she qualified for the California Dream Act, which allows students without legal status to pay in-state tuition.
Her younger sister, who attends a high school east of Los Angeles, also lacks legal status. Kelly hopes she can help her navigate the college admissions process more easily.
“All the mistakes I made, I can try to prevent for her,” she said.
Earlier this year, New York City granted DACA recipients the right to vote in municipal elections. It was an ambivalent victory for Chaewon Jessica Park, an immigrant justice organizer at the MinKwon Center for Community Action, an Asia-Pacific American community organization based in New York.
Park and her family came to the United States from South Korea when she was 10 in 2011, too late to make them eligible for DACA.
“I’m advocating for something that I won’t even be eligible for,” said Park, a 22-year-old new senior at Columbia University, recalling her thought.
She is frustrated with a narrative that only focuses on DACA recipients. Some media outlets, she said, only ask to speak to those who have DACA. It’s a continuation of the narrative of good immigrants versus bad immigrants, she said.
“My voice is diminished,” she said.
It’s been 21 years since the Dream Act, which would have offered permanent residency to people like Park, was first introduced in the Senate.
During a Senate court hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-California) linked the need for a permanent solution on DACA to the national labor shortage. He acknowledged that as more high school students graduate without access to DACA, the situation is not improving.
“When promising students…are pushed into the shadows, we all lose,” he said. “Congress needs to pass a legislative solution for Dreamers so that more students can graduate and join our workforce. Our economy needs the talents and passion of young immigrants.
Last year, after Democratic lawmakers introduced the Dream and Promise Act offering deportation protections to 4.4 million immigrants, the senses. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Thom Tillis (RN.C.) have called for targeted legislation to provide permanent legal status for DACA recipients. in exchange for likely proposals on border security and domestic enforcement.
“Unfortunately, that request was denied,” Cornyn said. “In the meantime, the DACA case continues to wind its way through the courts, bringing us closer to the day when the program will likely finally and completely be canceled.”
The post-DACA generation faces common challenges, but it also depends on the state in which these young people live.
For years, Park dreamed of becoming a teacher. But even though New York allows DACA recipients to earn teacher certifications, people without DACA aren’t eligible.
Not being eligible to become a teacher is “devastating”, she said. Instead, Park is applying to law school, hoping to think about her future “a little later,” she said.
In California, young immigrants like Park do not have to pay out-of-state tuition to attend public universities. So did Reyna, who graduated at the top of her class from a Green Dot public school in Los Angeles, and ended up being offered full scholarships to UC Berkeley and Scripps College.
But that’s not the case for immigrant youth without DACA who live in the 28 states that don’t offer in-state tuition to students without legal status and therefore must pay full tuition to attend. public schools.
Karen Nuñez Sifuentes moved to Colorado at age 13 from Coahuila, Mexico, overstayed her tourist visa and is now in the country without legal status. She was not eligible for DACA because she came to the United States in 2012.
She was accepted into her dream university – Regis University, a private university in Denver. But due to her legal status and lack of DACA, admissions officials forced her to pay out-of-state tuition.
She ended up attending and earning a degree in biochemistry at MCU Denver, but was unable to pursue a career in science because she was not legally authorized to work for federally funded labs. It wouldn’t have been a problem if she had had DACA.
“I planned to get my master’s, be in a lab, and work toward a doctorate,” Nuñez said. “I had to say goodbye to those dreams.”
Unable to obtain a work permit, she ended up starting her own limited liability company and enlisting her services as a program and engagement coordinator with ConVivir Colorado, an immigrant student leadership program.
Although federal law prohibits employers from hiring anyone here illegally, no law prohibits such a person from starting a business or becoming an independent contractor.
It’s been hard for Nuñez to watch his college friends with DACA move on. One went to medical school. Another is in the process of becoming a medical assistant. A third is in dental school.
“Maybe some people are going through something difficult, but there is light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
“For me, I don’t feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I have to be comfortable with the dark.