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Identity & Community

With End Of DACA Looming, Local DREAMers Cope With Uncertainty

Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Supporters of the DACA program demonstrate on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017.

Among Pittsburgh DREAMers who benefited from the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals program – also called DACA – the Trump administration's decision to end the program elicited reactions ranging from distress to resignation on Wednesday.

Some were at a loss, saying they have no way to ensure they can stay in the U.S. if DACA expires in six months without a replacement from Congress.

Marisa, who lives in a suburb of Pittsburgh, fears that she will be forced to return to Mexico, and leave behind her husband and three children. She declined to disclose her full name to avoid becoming a target of immigration authorities.

On Tuesday, Marisa was surprised to learn that the Trump administration would rescind DACA protections for individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. It was an emotional day for Marisa, who fears her family has no alternatives.

“We don’t know what to do. I don’t know if there are any other options,” Marisa said. “I can’t go and get my green card or anything.”

One of nearly 5,900 DREAMers residing in Pennsylvania, Marisa entered the U.S. with her parents when she was just two. Federal authorities ordered them to return to Mexico when Marisa was still a child, but the family decided to stay in the U.S. anyway.

Now 27, Marisa doesn’t have the documentation required to obtain a green card. Although Marisa is married to a U.S. citizen, her undocumented status precludes her from obtaining a green card, according to Marisa’s attorney, Kristen Schneck.

Schneck is working with colleagues to reopen the case in which the government issued a removal order to Marisa’s family over a decade ago. During those proceedings, Schneck said, a “notario” posing as an immigration attorney might have provided the family with fraudulent representation.

Pittsburgh DREAMer Maria Duarte, 23, plans to continue her life as usual despite President Trump’s decision to end DACA.

“I feel like deportation has not really ever been such a huge concern for me just because I was younger before DACA, and then DACA came in,” she said. “It just never seemed like a realistic thing to be deported.”

Born in Mexico, Duarte was not surprised by Trump’s decision, given his tough stance on immigration during the 2016 campaign. Longtime migrant rights activists who had also lost hope helped Duarte to brace for the news.

“They talked about it like it was final. They talked about it like we had already lost,” Duarte said. “And I think that just put me in that mindset, too. That’s when I just sort of started to accept it as the truth.”

In the absence of a replacement program from Congress, Duarte said the end of DACA represents a significant loss for her. DACA made it easier for her to get hired during and after college. Documentation was no longer a problem.

As a DACA participant, however, she still was not eligible for federal student aid. Instead, she received private loans and grants through Chatham University, where she completed her degree.

For Duarte, one of the most noteworthy benefits of DACA is that it allowed her to obtain a driver’s license. She recalls that when she first learned about the program in 2012, she and her friends, all DREAMers, were driving home from a vacation in Florida.

“We were happy, but we also didn’t really understand what it even meant because we just couldn’t even imagine having those privileges - as we were driving without a driver’s license,” she said. “It kind of felt unrealistic, but it also felt really heartwarming, and it felt like such a huge victory.”

After the government approved her DACA application in 2012, Duarte gained a newfound sense of belonging.

“One of the biggest things that DACA gave me, which I’d say is the most significant, is that I was able to have the courage to come out of the shadows for the first time. And ever since then, I have been so proud,” she said.

While Duarte hopes Congress will replace DACA, she also wants any new legislation to extend the protections she and about 800,000 other DREAMers have enjoyed under DACA to all 11 million people in the U.S. illegally.

“The DREAMers, we’re not the only ones who are here,” she said. “Our parents, family members, everybody else who is part of this community is just as important and deserves just as much respect and as much of an opportunity to thrive in this country as we have had with DACA.”

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