As the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program earlier this month, young people who are protected by the Obama-era legislation listened with bated breath. Known as Dreamers, their futures are uncertain as the country’s highest court of law will soon decide whether or not to terminate the program.
Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants throughout the country have lived and worked here legally through DACA over the last decade, which was created by President Barack Obama in 2012 to protect teens and young adults who were brought to the U.S. as young children by their parents.
Dreamers are granted a work permit and the ability to apply for a driver’s license through DACA, though the program offers no real path to lawful, permanent residence. DACA requires that applicants have a clean criminal record, were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 and that they’ve lived in the country continuously for at least five years.
President Donald Trump’s administration attempted to rescind DACA in 2017, but the move was blocked by several federal courts. DACA recipients were allowed to keep and renew their statuses, however, it put a hold on all new applications.
After recently hearing arguments on whether the Trump administration acted unlawfully when it rescinded the program, the Supreme Court is expected to offer a judgement by spring.
As of June 30, there were 660,880 active DACA recipients in America, according to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. California is home to the most Dreamers with 188,420 — 10,000 of whom reside in the Central Valley. Around 300 of those Dreamers attend Stanislaus State, according to a 2017 estimate by the university’s Dreamers Committee.
Liberal Studies major Laura Tellez is a Dreamer whose DACA status has allowed her to live a normal life, she said, bringing her out of the shadows and into society.
“I lived in fear before DACA,” Tellez said. “It’s something that never goes away.”
Tellez came to America with her parents in 2007, she said, when she was 14 years old. She graduated from high school in Merced in 2011 and immediately began attending Stanislaus State, working at a local supermarket to help pay her tuition. It took her an entire year to work up the courage to apply for DACA, she said, officially becoming part of the program in 2013 after doing plenty of research about its pros and cons.
“It was something new, and I was scared,” Tellez said, adding that some of her friends chose not to apply out of fear it was a ploy to have them deported. “My friends thought it was a scam, but I finally decided to apply and give it a try.”
Within months Tellez received DACA status, and the impact it had on her life was immeasurable from the start. She was eligible for a small amount of financial aid to help with her tuition, and she was finally able to get her driver’s license. Instead of continuing at her supermarket job, Tellez began working in local schools thanks to her new work permit — an experience that has allowed her to take strides towards her goal of becoming a teacher one day.
If the Supreme Court decides to uphold the Trump administration’s wishes and rescind the DACA program, Tellez understands her new life could be ripped away in an instant. She recalled feeling the same fear in 2017 when the effort first made headlines.
“The possibility of having it taken away is hard. I’m in the middle of preparing to graduate in the spring…if my DACA is rescinded there’s that fear I’ll have to go back into the shadows,” Tellez said. “I want to finish. It wouldn’t be fair for me to struggle all of these years just to have to stop in the middle.”
Tellez would lose her job, her license and her financial aid — the latter of which would be a burden for many student Dreamers who also have to pay steep renewal fees to keep their DACA status. If recently introduced legislation to raise fees is passed, the cost to renew DACA will increase 55 percent from $495 to $765.
On Saturday, Stanislaus State Dreamers and other DACA recipients joined Congressman Josh Harder for a Thanksgiving meal. Gatherings like this are difficult in today’s political climate, Tellez said, as many undocumented individuals — Dreamers included — are afraid to make their legal status known publicly.
During his time as an adjunct professor of business at Modesto Junior College, Harder said he taught Dreamers on a regular basis who are “Americans in every way except on paper.”
“One young woman I knew was carried over the border as a little baby but now faces an uncertain future,” Harder said. “The Trump Administration has gone after these kids for no good reason, even after the President himself said they’re ‘good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs.’ The Supreme Court should rule in favor of our Dreamers and stop the rollback of this program.”
A bipartisan bill, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, was passed by the House in June and would protect Dreamers from deportation while providing them with a path toward permanent residency. While the bill has yet to be voted on by the Senate, Tellez hopes that soon there will be a solution for Dreamers like her.
“We are called Dreamers, but we’re just normal people like everyone else trying to get a better future for ourselves,” Tellez said. “There are a lot of misconceptions that we’re here to harm people or take way from them, but we’re here to live our lives like everyone else and be recognized for the things we do.”