After Years Of Security, DACA Recipients Face The Burden Of Uncertainty

Sep 8, 2017

It's been a difficult week for people under DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program protecting thousands of undocumented young people from deportation, if their parents brought them to this country as children. 

With the announcement that DACA is coming to an end, these young must navigate school, work, and family even as they face worry and uncertainty about the future.

Twenty-eight-year-old Javier Juarez is just settling into a new job as a research assistant and beginning a Master’s program in American Studies at Brown University.

Just like any other student at this time of year, Juarez is thinking about his school work. 

"I better start reading," he said.

But he has something else on his mind too. Juarez was born in Peru. He came to this country with his father at age 10 and lived without any sort of documentation for more than a decade.

When he had the chance to apply for a new program that would allow him to stay in the country without fear of deportation, he didn’t hesitate, even though he had to give the federal government his name and address.

“Before DACA I wasn’t able to drive I was taking the bus everywhere, I was getting rides,” said Juarez. “I was kind of working under the table doing side jobs working construction or food trucks.”

But starting in 2012, thanks to DACA, Juarez got a driver's license, a college degree, and a full time job with benefits. From his office in downtown Providence, he can see the street where he first stepped off the bus in Rhode Island.

“The first stop was here, we had some family here so it’s just funny because now I work across the street from the bus stop where I started,” said Juarez.

The DACA program allowed Juarez, and many others like him, the chance to work legally and go to college, even though they don’t qualify for federal financial aid. DACA also provided a temporary sense of security, until the Trump Administration announced it will be ending the program. Juarez has permission to stay until next December.

“So I’m ok,” said Juarez. “But with this decision that came Tuesday, there’s this ticking time clock in the back of your head.”

The clock is also ticking for 24-year-old Gustavo Gonzalez, who was born in Mexico, and came to this country when he was in the 3rd grade. He describes a typical childhood growing up in Pawtucket, attending high school and becoming captain of the soccer team. Gonzalez said it was in the middle of those high school years when he was first confronted by the limitations of his undocumented status.

“When everyone was getting their driver’s licenses, planning for college, and everyone was thinking about their future, what they’re going to become, all I could think of was 'what am I going to do next?'” said Gonzalez.

Then Gonzalez was approved for DACA, which allowed him to enroll at a trade school, and study auto repair. Now he works as a mechanic, and he has returned to community college to study public policy.

For Gonzalez, DACA offered more than the opportunity to drive and study. It was a welcome to America.

“It definitely gave me a sense of belonging, like I could come out,” said Juarez. “You know, go out to the movies and not have to show a passport or my Mexican identification number.”  

His sister Sonia was just a kindergartner when the family arrived in this country. She was a sophomore when DACA went into effect and gets emotional at the thought that it may end.

“It’s like the light at the end of the tunnel, and now with what’s going on, it’s like the light is getting shut off again,” said Gonzalez.

To qualify for the program, she and her brother gathered report cards, school records and achievement awards they’d received. They underwent fingerprinting and background checks.

“We proved to them that we’re good kids so I don’t understand,” said Gonzalez. “What else do we have to prove to them?”

Immigration attorneys say when DACA expires in March the federal government is unlikely to have the resources to begin mass deportations. Instead, DACA recipients may be driven back underground. 

“I’m going to have to find a job that’s willing to pay me under the table, and probably not something that I want to do, but I’ll do it if I have to,” said Sonia Gonzalez, who has been working retail jobs to help pay for school.

DACA recipients do have allies in state government. Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin is joining a multi-state lawsuit against the federal government to keep DACA. Governor Gina Raimondo denounced the White House's decision, but said she was unsure what practical protections the state can offer.

Gonzalez' voice wavers when she thinks about the possibility that she could be deported, but she's trying to remain hopeful.

“I want to be more positive than negative, just for my parents, basically,” said Gonzalez.

Without action from Congress, or a reversal from the Trump administration, her dream of finishing her degree will be out of reach.

“So if nothing happens in the next six months, then I’m going to be stuck,” said Gonzalez. “I went to school for almost three years, and I’m not going to get anything. All the hard work is not going to be anything at the end of the day.”

Now she says she has to put that out of her mind and focus on her job and her classes, even as the future remains a question mark.