Jul 30, 2017
By Christopher Kerosky
Five years ago this month, a new federal law changed the lives of almost one million young people. The law, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Applicants or DACA, gave many young undocumented immigrants – colloquially known as “Dreamers” – the chance to obtain a work permit, a drivers license, and a reprieve from deportation.
One of those Dreamers is Victor Escobar. Victor is a native of Peru who came to Northern California as a young boy and excelled in high school and college here. But his family was never able to obtain a green card. The week he was supposed to attend his college graduation, Victor was turned over to Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) after he was stopped for a traffic violation. ICE incarcerated him in an immigration jail in the Arizona desert and prepared to deport him.
Victor was days away from deportation when DACA saved him. He was able to get released from jail, obtain a work permit and have his deportation case dismissed. That was five years ago. This spring, Victor finished his first year of studies at Hastings Law School in San Francisco.
Sonoma County has thousands of DREAMers like Victor. Some attend our high schools and colleges. For most of their lives, they suffered with the fear, anxiety, and helplessness that goes along with lacking legal status from the U.S. government. They were not allowed to work or to drive legally. Then DACA was implemented and gave them a chance to come out of the shadows and work toward a future in this country.
To qualify for DACA, individuals have to be here since childhood and have obeyed our laws. They need to have obtained a high school diploma or be presently studying. So far, the law has helped over 800,000 people.
But since the election of Donald Trump, these young people have lived with the fear that DACA may be terminated and they will put into deportation proceedings. President Trump has declared his intention to build a wall on the Mexican border, to implement a ban on immigration from 7 Muslim countries, and to deport 2-3 million immigrants. Trump has not made any official decisions about DACA and its future is still in limbo. But in July, the state of Texas and 10 other states announced their intention to sue the Trump Administration to compel the cancellation of DACA. This could force Trump’s hand on the matter.
There is proposed legislation in Congress known as the Bridge Act that would preserve DACA, but it appears to be going nowhere in the current political climate.
Many feel that we must do all in our power to make sure that these young people like Victor, who voluntarily came forward and identified themselves to the federal government, are not deported in our name by our government. There is a groundswell of local groups and individuals here in our County trying to help and protect our immigrant community.
One local non-profit organization trying to make a difference in the conversation about undocumented immigration and DACA is My American Dreams. It began as a project of the Human Rights Commission for Sonoma County in 2013. Since then, My American Dreams has produced six short films profiling our County’s young people whose lives have been transformed by DACA. These videos have been shown on our local PBS station, KRCB, and on PBS stations across the country. The group is currently making more films about immigrants and also does presentations on the immigration issue in both English and Spanish. You can see the films and find out more about its work at www.MyAmericanDreams.org or on its Facebook page.
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