For DACA recipients, uncertainty is a way of life 9 years later

Credit: AL DRAGO

Credit: AL DRAGO

With program’s fate unknown, ‘Dreamers’ keep pushing forward
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s journalists follow the facts, because you deserve to know what’s really going on.

Israel Arce rushed to a movie theater Friday night ready to unwind with “In the Heights,” a musical all about sueñitos — little dreams.

A “Dreamer” himself, the movie was moving for the 28-year-old Roswell High School grad, who is able to work, drive and live legally in this country thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Tuesday marks nine years since the Obama administration created the DACA program — which currently shields about 636,000 immigrants who were brought illegally to the United States before the age of 16 from deportation. The program grants renewable two-year work permits and temporary deportation deferrals to immigrants who met a strict set of criteria such as graduating or attending high school here and having no felony convictions. DACA recipients, nicknamed “Dreamers,” are permitted to work legally, sign up for health insurance, and get a driver’s license. More than 20,000 DACA recipients live in Georgia.

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During the movie, which chronicles life in the Washington Heights immigrant community of New York City, Arce reflected on the nine years since DACA went into effect, and his own journey of leaving Guadalajara, Mexico at 6 years old to growing up in Atlanta.

“It hitting home is quite the understatement,” he said in a text message. “In a lot of ways I would say that it helped me finally realize / validate my feeling about how my ties to my community are ‘good enough’ reasons for me to want to continue to fight to stay here.”

Credit: Summitted by: Israel Arce

Credit: Summitted by: Israel Arce

Despite support from President Joe Biden and polling showing a majority of Americans being in favor of it, DACA remains in jeopardy. Opponents say it encourages illegal immigration and rewards people for breaking the law. In Georgia, DACA recipients must pay higher out-of-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities.

In Texas, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen is expected to make a decision on a 2018 lawsuit that questions the legality of DACA and could possibly end the program altogether. Meanwhile, in Washington, the Senate has not passed the American Dream and Promise Act, which would create a pathway to citizenship for program recipients.

“It’s just so frustrating to see Congress not do what virtually all of them know is the right thing to do,” Charles Kuck, an Atlanta immigration lawyer, said.

Jaime Rangel was brought to the U.S. at 6 months old by his parents via Hidalgo, Mexico, and has never been back. The 30-year-old calls himself a proud Georgian with “northwest Georgia values.” In high school, he wanted to attend Dalton State College and study finance and economics, but those dreams got a reality check when he asked his parents about getting a driver’s license, and learned his legal status.

He’s since obtained a license thanks to the program.

Credit: Submitted by: John Simpson

Credit: Submitted by: John Simpson

Rangel says Tuesday’s DACA anniversary will be meaningful to him.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to reflect (on) what we’ve been through,” Rangel said. “It gives us the opportunity to fight for a better tomorrow.”

DACA has allowed Arce to pursue his passion of working as a surgical tech. He’s also holding onto various little dreams. Those include traveling to Mexico to see his parents, whom he hasn’t seen since they went back eight years ago.

He compares the current period to being in limbo.

“What I feel is frustration at the way things work,” Arce said.

Arce also has a simple message to his fellow dreamers — keep moving forward.

“For most people who are undocumented here there is no real choice other than to try to push ahead,” Arce said. “It’s pushing on ahead to create a life that you want for yourself because again ultimately we’re all free humans.”

He then quoted another Lin-Manuel Miranda hit, “Hamilton”: “I’m definitely not throwing away my shot.”

Paradise Afshar is a Report for America corps member covering metro Atlanta’s immigrant communities.

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