By Alondra Perez and Yamelin Jaquez
“In a blink of an eye, everything can be gone,” said 17-year-old Denisse Gonzalez-Valencia.
The Michigan resident moved from her native Mexico to the United States when she was only 4 years old. Her parents brought her to this country for a better future.
For the last two years, Gonzalez-Valencia has been in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, instituted by the Obama administration to protect young people whose parents or guardians brought them to the United States illegally. The Trump administration announced in September it was ending the program.
Gonzalez-Valencia grew up in fear of being separated from her family and her country. She recalls feeling like an outcast in the only place she can call home. Whether financially or culturally, she had to adapt to being different from those around her.
Growing up, she did not fully realize her situation. She recalled that it was not until recently that she was emotionally affected by her status.
“I have a constant fear that I am going to get rejected because I am a DACA recipient,” she said. “It’s always been a struggle to even make solid plans, because every day is a day-by-day thing.”
She, along with nearly 800,000 other “Dreamers,” have been in limbo for many years. But since the Trump administration ended the DACA program, with a recommendation that Congress take action to protect the Dreamers, and lawmakers have failed to act, Gonzalez-Valencia has never been in so much fear.
“It’s scary to know that everything I ever planned for my future is at risk,” she said.
Court challenges to Trump’s decision on DACA continue.
Recently, federal judges in San Francisco and New York have issued injunctions ordering the Trump Administration to keep DACA in place while courts consider legal challenges to the president’s termination of the program.
Trump had argued that then-President Barack Obama had exceeded his executive powers when he created the program.
Under the program, certain undocumented young people can obtain a Social Security card, a work permit, a driver’s license, and most important, the hope of one day legally being part of the only country they know. But now, DACA students are uncertain about their futures.
Congress missed a March 5, 2018, deadline to reach a conclusion on a stable future for the program.
The Supreme Court ruled on Feb. 26 that an appeals court should take the case first. This means that the DACA program will stay effective until the Supreme Court takes it up in the future. This brings a brief relief for the Dreamers living in fear of getting deported.
In Pennsylvania, there are about 5,800 DACA recipients anxiously waiting on the next move. However, there are many cities throughout the state, Philadelphia included, that are willing to stand with Dreamers during this time of uncertainy.
“The Philadelphia Foundation has long been supportive of vulnerable populations, which today includes immigrants and Dreamers,” said Philip Fitzgerald, director of grant making for the foundation, which works with Dreamers.
The agency created its PA Is Ready! Fund in 2014 to prepare those eligible under DACA. The fund has evolved to respond to rapid changes in policies and the changing needs of immigrant and refugee communities. With threats from the federal government to end programs provided by sanctuary cities, immigrants consider this foundation and other programs in the area essential.
The City of Philadelphia is a sanctuary city, which is any place “that limits its cooperation with federal immigration enforcement agents in order to protect low-priority immigrants from deportation,” wrote Van Le, digital director of America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy website.
Fitzgerald said the Philadelphia Foundation is ready to help Dreamers living in fear.
“Many organizations stand ready to assist you through legal screenings, application assistance and a spirit of understanding,” he said, adding that Dreamers can find resources through the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition.
Not all DACA students have as much support. For instance, Gonzalez-Valencia’s home of Holland, Mich., is not a sanctuary city.
The West Ottawa High School senior is grateful for the chance to step out of the shadows for the first time and show her potential to both herself and the only country that she has ever known. DACA has made her more confident in the decisions she makes. One of the first things she did when she qualified for DACA was to reach out to college recruiters.
“I no longer felt like an outcast,” she said. “For the first time, I could apply for a job and drive a car. It gave me a sense of independence,” she said.
“Everything has now shifted due to the political climate,” she continued. “Everything I ever planned is now at risk. I go to sleep and wake up in the morning with the thought of what may happen next.”
The threats to DACA affect both students who are DACA recipients and those who are citizens. In Philadelphia, many high school students support Dreamers. Some of these students have been going to school with the immigrants and are using their voice to speak out on the issue.
“This country was based on immigrants,” said Christopher Marte, 18, a senior at Community Academy of Philadelphia. “I think we should go out and post things on social media and protest about it.”
Anasazi Marie Vargas Laborde, a 17-year-old senior at W.B. Saul High School of Agricultural Science, keeps track of certain social media accounts, including those of Latina Rebels and United We Dream.
“I follow many pages that are active on DACA that have many petitions, which I try to sign and post on my Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, so that the public can be informed,” she said.
The debate over whether to support Dreamers and permit them to stay in the country upsets Argelis Minaya-Bravo, 17, from The U School.
“They live the American life,” she said. “It’s not their fault that their parents came illegally and brought them here for a better future.”