Op-Ed: What DACA has allowed me to achieve for myself and my community
On Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected the Trump administration’s plan to repeal the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, as arbitrary and not justified. The program has protected more than 700,000 undocumented people, who were brought into the country as children, from deportation. It also allows these individuals to get work permits if they follow the program’s rules and maintain a clean criminal record.
We asked several DACA recipients to tell us how DACA changed their lives and what it’s meant for their families and their communities. Here’s what they had to say.
I’m a history teacher, advocating for my students
I’m an undocumented educator and activist who arrived in the United States from Mexico at 9 months old and have since resided in Los Angeles. In third grade, I knew I wanted to be a teacher and to go to UCLA because that’s where my best teachers went. Those teachers allowed me to believe that anything was possible through education, and DACA made my aspirations legally attainable.
Before DACA, there was an unsettling feeling of darkness and fear of being taken away from the only country and community I knew. Qualifying for DACA in 2013 offered me a pathway to use the knowledge and skills gained at UCLA to serve my community as an educator and role model.
In my Los Angeles public school, I have been able to create a classroom where my students and their families feel seen, safe and loved. My classroom is a resource center for learning, social services and a space where students can have their needs met. We are a community that cares for and supports each other, something many of my students hadn’t experienced before my class.
DACA gave me the opportunity to work in a community filled with dreams of a better life. It has allowed me to help the next generation to pursue their passions, to seek truth in the past, and to be the critical thinkers needed for a better and equitable society.
I have held leadership roles and sat on committees at my school to advocate for my students and community so that they have the resources they need to thrive. DACA gave me the ability to obtain a driver’s license so that I could deliver food weekly to students most in need during the coronavirus pandemic.
DACA transformed my life as an advocate and made it possible to provide for my son and my family. Though my son and many of my students are U.S. citizens, my DACA status has given them a sense of safety. Because of DACA, I’ve been able to build a more stable future, without fear of being separated from my loved ones. — Angélica Reyes, Los Angeles public high school teacher
DACA helped me, but it was never meant to be a full solution
My journey began nearly 20 years ago in 2001 when my family and I immigrated from Guatemala. I was 8 years old. In many ways, the factors that pushed my family to immigrate here are still the same for many recently arrived Central American immigrants — seeking safety and a better life.
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, my goal was to attend college. Since becoming a DACA recipient in 2013, I’ve had a chance to work and pay for my studies at community college and UC Berkeley. After graduating, I’ve been able to help others navigate the legal system as an immigration paralegal and now as an administrator of pro bono programs at UC Berkeley School of Law. DACA allowed me to achieve some financial stability for my family and not worry about basic necessities like rent.
The Supreme Court rejected the Trump administration’s plan to repeal DACA, which is victory for us. But I urge my fellow DACA recipients to remember that this decision should not define us or our goals. It is our duty to advocate for everyone in the undocumented community — in particular for those who were never eligible for DACA or don’t fit the good immigrant narrative. Humane immigration policies should not be solely based on a group’s monetary contribution to the economy or what their academic achievements have been.
DACA was achieved by undocumented youth who protested and pushed the Obama administration to implement it. DACA was never meant to be the solution; comprehensive immigration reform and the abolition of ICE and detention centers should be our goals.
Both Democrats and Republicans have failed to create long-term solutions for the broken immigration system. Now under the Trump administration we have immigrants trapped in detention centers, threatened by a deadly pandemic. We see children separated from their parents and people fleeing for their lives being denied asylum.
If one cares for the Black community, indigenous peoples, the LGBTQ community, Asians, or any other oppressed group, you will find undocumented immigrants in those communities. If DACA recipients are the only thing in people’s minds when they think of undocumented immigrants, that’s where the problem begins. — Mario Alvarado Cifuentes, pro bono administrator at UC Berkeley School of Law
I’m building a career in environmental engineering
Since 2012, DACA has given hope and a future to thousands of young undocumented students like me. My family immigrated to California from a rural town in the Mexican state of Guanajuato when I was 12 years old.
Many undocumented students never get the opportunity to complete a college degree. I obtained DACA status in 2015, and I was fortunate enough to obtain my bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 2017 from UC Riverside.
DACA has provided me the opportunity to work, although I am still limited to areas of employment in engineering that do not require U.S citizenship or resident status. Thankfully, I have mentors who opened the door for me to my current position with the city of Santa Barbara.
I am an engineering technician with the Department of Public Works’ water resources division, where I assist in project planning and development in the civil and environmental engineering fields. Because of DACA, I am able to gain engineering experience that will prepare me for my future profession. I am currently applying to graduate schools to obtain a PhD in environmental/chemical engineering. Obtaining a PhD in engineering would provide security for myself and my family.
As an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to conduct research on DACA’s impact for the sociology department at UC Riverside. That research sought to understand how DACA changed the lives of people who wanted to attend college but could not afford to.
The research results told a story that was familiar to so many undocumented students. DACA, by allowing them to work, made it possible for them to pay for school. As part of my research, I spoke with dozens of undocumented people eligible for DACA, and I found one thing to be true: DACA offered a promise for a better future, where we can contribute to a country that has raised us. — Reyna Sanchez, engineering technician, Department of Public Works, Santa Barbara
DACA made it possible for me to enter public service
My parents and I immigrated from Lima, Peru, when I was 10 years old. We moved to Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley, and that became my new home. I received my DACA status as a sophomore attending Cal State Northridge, a couple of months after its implementation in 2012.
I remember starting college before DACA or the California Dream Act and living with a lot of uncertainty, especially when thinking about a career and possible deportation. Since the creation of DACA in 2012, I completed a bachelor’s and master’s degree, and was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to represent students on the California State University Board of Trustees.
My DACA work permit allowed me to begin a career in public service, first working as a field representative for state Sen. Bob Hertzberg. In that job, I engaged with many small businesses and community groups in the San Fernando Valley, and assisted constituents with questions or issues they had with state departments or agencies. I loved working for the people of the San Fernando Valley, a community that welcomed me as I grew up.
In 2018, I moved to Sacramento to work as an Assembly fellow for Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Kevin Mullin and now as communications director for Assemblymember Monique Limón. At the state Capitol, I have a role to play in the creation of legislation that helps all Californians.
DACA did not hand me any achievements, money or education. But it gave me the chance to work hard and build the future my parents have always dreamt of and sacrificed so much for.
DACA gave me a sense of belonging and safety. These are things I did not have before. — Jorge Reyes Salinas, communications director for Assemblymember Monique Limón
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