Thanks to President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012, some 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children had the opportunity to come out of the shadows. Now, President Trump has ended the programme, which gave Dreamers a renewable work permit and shielded them from deportation. We spoke with DACA recipients to find out their stories and why they consider themselves to be Americans in every way except on paper.
Jan A., a 26-year-old from Iran, is currently a strategy consultant in New York. She arrived to the US at age 10 and her family's asylum case allowed them to stay in the US — until it got denied.
This is her story, as told to Andrea González-Ramírez.
My dad first moved to the US at the beginning of 2000 and got a job at a toll booth on the New Jersey Turnpike. He worked the night shift there, and during the day he worked at a convenience store. Once he saved enough enough money for an apartment, my mum, my brother, and I all moved here. We came on a visitor’s visa and overstayed it. For a few years, we tried to go through the proper channels with an attorney, who ended up scamming us. For a really long time, we were completely undocumented.
After that, my mum was advised by a new attorney that she had a case for asylum. The circumstances back home made her a candidate for it. Even if she didn’t get it, at the very least there would be a withholding of removal, so that she could continue to live and work here with my family. That was in the early 2000s.
Once I started college at U-Mass, I was able to interact with this huge Latino and activist community there. It was the first time I met Dreamers and got introduced to the DREAM Act. This was back in 2008, 2009, so there was no DACA at the time. I was able to work and study legally because of our parents’ asylum case, which was ongoing. When I met these people who were just like me, who had grown up here, who had lived really normal and mainstream American childhoods, I realised I wasn’t the only one. There were millions of us out there; kids who wanted to go to school, and get an education, and build the lives our parents wanted us to have.
We didn’t end up getting asylum, and it was completely denied in 2012. When it was denied, my dad moved to India to work and support our family. He said, "I don’t want to be here undocumented." Our case was denied only two months before DACA was available. It was perfect timing because our work permits were going to expire anyway. My brother and I applied for deferred action so we could go to college, graduate, get our master’s, get jobs, and continue to flourish here — because at that point we had grown up in the US.
I didn’t have to worry anymore once DACA came around. Having DACA gave me the opportunity to visit my family abroad. I travel a lot because of my job, and I could do that because I could get advanced parole. I’ve been able to advance my career. It has allowed me to be myself without worrying about whether certain opportunities are going to be available — it opened so many doors.
Now it’s really terrifying. On the one hand, I feel lucky that if I ever had to leave, my job would let me transfer to anywhere in the world. But on the other hand, I grew up here, and the culture here is the only culture I really identify with. I just can't imagine living somewhere else; it would almost feel like I am a refugee. I don't really know a life outside of the one that I've had here.
My mum has been devastated because she’s been living comfortably knowing that her kids are settled. For her it is: "My kids worked so hard in school. They did the right thing, they never committed a crime or did anything bad. They’re hardworking professionals, and that’s going to be taken away from them."
At some point, me and my brother would have to give up our jobs, because we wouldn’t be eligible to work anymore. But my brother and I are not the only people who have really great jobs or are in school as a result of DACA. It will impact the economy to a crippling degree.
What Trump should have done is allow Congress to write something into law first, before repealing DACA, rather than going ahead and phasing it out, and then throwing the responsibility onto Congress.
People don't realise: You've walked past me and other Dreamers on the street a million times. You talk to us every day. You shake hands with us in meetings. We're young professionals. We are people who grew up here. And we don't have our status stamped on our foreheads, so you don't know who we are. We need you to realise we're people, too. We bring value to this country.
You might interact with someone with DACA on a regular basis. They could be your doctor, they could even be your lawyer. They could be the person who puts gas in your car or they could be the kid that mows your lawn. It could be anybody. You have to view us as people and show a little empathy.
We went through an extreme vetting process and several months of background checks to be able to live and work here legally. And for you to take that away, it’s completely heartless.