Young immigrants live in limbo while DACA issues continue


Editor’s note: Immigration has been a political boondoggle for at least two decades in the United States. Congress has yet to come up with a system that will successfully address the complexities, and President Donald Trump has taken some decisions into his own hands.

Seventh in a series

It’s been nearly eight months since President Donald Trump called for the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). Two government shutdowns and several DACA-related lawsuits have happened since then, and the confusion surrounding the futures of young immigrants continues.

The shutdowns of January and February 2018 were caused partially by the government’s inability to agree on a fix regarding DACA, according to the Desert Sun.

The president has a desire to solve issues relating to DACA, according to CNN. But Trump has rejected several attempts to fix the program. The White House opposes any fix that doesn’t include funding for Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. 

University of Arizona graduate student Dario Andrade Mendoza came to the U.S. from Mexico in 2003 when he was almost 9 years old with his father, mother and two brothers. He’s lived in Tucson, Arizona ever since.

His father worked as an engineer at a mine in Mexico until he was laid off. His father had difficulty finding work and made the decision to go to the U.S. as a choice “for survival.”

“Privileged folks and outsiders to immigration have to understand and really take time to think about the situations for those that all of a sudden come to the United States,” Mendoza said. “If being undocumented and living through that for decades is a good choice, how bad were the other choices? Being undocumented is not in any way positive.”

Mendoza currently works with his university’s Immigrant Student Resource Center as a college navigator, changing anti-immigration attitudes on campus. Without DACA, he wouldn’t have the opportunity to get an education and work in the country.

Mendoza said “risk analysis” is a big part of his life as an immigrant; even though he’s a DACA recipient, he still has concerns over deportation.

He also faces concerns over work opportunities. He has the skills and education to be an engineer like his father was, but he has experienced increased worry from companies over his lack of citizenship.

Mexican-American history professor Ignacio Garcia said the issues with DACA have caused the government to specifically focus on the 800,000 program recipients in comparison to the 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.

Ty Mullen
A DACA protester holds a sign outside the Utah State Capitol Building. Protesters heard from several community leaders at a Sept. 16 protest in Salt Lake City. (Ty Mullen)

Some of the DACA kids say, ‘No I don’t want to be singled out and then somebody comes for my parents,’” Garcia said. “All of these (immigration programs), which were intended to do good, have turned out to be very problematic. That’s why you see so many young people who would qualify for DACA not accepting it because they’re probably smart in this sense — if everything collapses, (the government) has all their information.”

Mendoza agreed with Garcia on this issue, saying he understands the concern of potential first-time DACA applicants under Trump’s administration. However, Mendoza said that concern isn’t a worry for most current DACA recipients because they’ve already given away their information. They can continue to reap the benefits of the program while they’re still available to them.

Considering the legal challenges the program has faced since Trump’s announcement, there is a lack of clear information regarding the possibilities for DACA-eligible immigrants and whether they can apply. The DACA informational page on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website is labeled as archived and “(containing) information that is no longer current.”

Under a February ruling by the Supreme Court, DACA recipients are allowed to renew their program status while DACA-related lawsuits make their way through the legal system. These cases are expected to make it to the appeals court by summer and the Supreme Court by fall. Until those cases conclude, the Department of Homeland Security is not permitting first-time DACA applications to be processed.

In 2017, 462,357 immigrants were approved as DACA recipients, the second highest amount of approvals the program has seen since in a year its inception in 2012. Of those applications, 415,059 were for DACA renewals and 47,298 were for first-time applicants.

Between January and March 2018, DACA status was renewed for 55,125 immigrants.

While the future of DACA remains uncertain, some DACA-eligible immigrants may look to other options, including returning to Mexico or applying for permanent residency in Canada.

Tucson mayor Jonathan Rothschild said DACA recipients deserve U.S. citizenship and that pathways to citizenship must be instituted for these young immigrants.  

“Most of them have gone through our school systems, are well educated and don’t know any other country but the United States,” Rothschild said. “Many of them are working here and contributing, and that’s not something that should be negotiated for something else. It’s something that needs to happen.”

While a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients may be available in the future, it isn’t available now. With that possibility looming, it begs the question of what the status of other immigrants living in the country illegally will be.

Media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform Ira Mehlman advocates for immigration controls and policies that best serve the American people’s interest. 

“The absence of a benefit or a reward is not the same as a punishment,” Mehlman said. “Not granting amnesty to people who were brought here by their parents is not the same thing as punishing them.”

Mehlman said it’s unfortunate young immigrants have been affected by the actions of their parents, but that doesn’t mean the parents should be held blameless for their actions.

“No question that these people didn’t create the situation, but their parents did,” Mehlman said. “In every other area of law, without exception, they hold the person who broke the law accountable.”

Mendoza acknowledged some people have negative feelings about the families of DACA recipients. He said he appreciates the public support DACA recipients have received from pro-immigration since Trump’s announcement to end the program.

But Mendoza wishes support was also available to his parents. He said DACA recipients’ parents are often “scapegoated” instead of honored for their actions.

“How are we not talking about how much respect they deserve?” Mendoza said. “What my dad has done for me and my family, I will never be able to do. The fact that he’s done it with a smile on his face and he picks up his family with him, that’s superhuman. My dad is my hero above everyone else. No else stands close to what my dad is for me and his family and what immigrant parents do for their families.”

With DACA hanging in the balance, the future of immigrants in the U.S. is uncertain. These issues will continue to play out publicly in the White House and the court system through the rest of 2018 and beyond. Meanwhile, young immigrants like Mendoza — as well as pro- and anti-immigration groups — will continue to be as involved as possible in a solution.

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