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04 Aug 2020

DREAMers' Dilemma: Immigrant-Rights Advocates Express Frustration as the Trump Administration Refuses DACA Applications Despite a Supreme Court Ruling

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Vanessa Moreno: “I went to a conference at UCLA for undocumented students, and I think that’s what brought me back to my old self and got me really involved in the community. That’s when I officially came out of the shadows. Before that, I was afraid to share my status with friends and other folks.” Vanessa Moreno: “I went to a conference at UCLA for undocumented students, and I think that’s what brought me back to my old self and got me really involved in the community. That’s when I officially came out of the shadows. Before that, I was afraid to share my status with friends and other folks.”

On June 18, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Trump administration’s efforts to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—seemingly giving a lifeline to the program that allows some undocumented residents who were brought to the United States as children to gain legal status.

Celebrations, sparked by the relief felt in undocumented-immigrant communities, spread across America. But they would be short-lived.

“Today’s court opinion has no basis in law and merely delays the president’s lawful ability to end the illegal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals amnesty program,” said a statement by Chad Wolf, the acting Homeland Security secretary.

A few days later, the Independent spoke to Megan Beaman Jacinto, a Coachella Valley immigration and civil rights attorney, about the impact of the ruling.

“What the decision did was essentially say that the Trump administration didn’t (try to) end DACA in the right way, and for that reason, DACA should be reopened for first-time applicants,” Beaman Jacinto said. “So it not only preserves DACA for those who are already in it, and (allows them) to keep renewing, which was already available, but it reopens it for people who qualified and weren’t able to apply after the program stopped. Hopefully, now there will be new people coming into the program. … But the ruling was very narrow and sort of temporary.”

On July 28, it became clear just how temporary hopes were for a reinstatement of the DACA program, when Wolf issued a statement saying he was directing “DHS personnel to take all appropriate actions to reject all pending and future initial requests for DACA, to reject all pending and future applications for advance parole absent exceptional circumstances, and to shorten DACA renewals (to one-year periods) consistent with the parameters established in this memorandum.”

The lives of roughly 640,000 current DACA recipients—and countless aspiring participants—were thrown into turmoil once again.

Vanessa Moreno, a resident of Coachella, is the program coordinator at COFEM Coachella Valley. The mission of COFEM—the Council of Mexican Federations in North America—is “to empower immigrant communities to be full participants in the social, political, economic and cultural life of the United States and their home country,” according to COFEM’s website. As someone who came to the United States as an undocumented child, Moreno said Wolf’s July 28 announcement was extremely upsetting.

“I felt so super-angry and frustrated. My ears started getting hot, and my hands started getting sweaty, and my stomach turned,” Moreno said. “I just didn’t know what else to say. I just couldn’t believe this was happening. We celebrated just a month ago that people were going to be able to apply for the first time, and we were preparing infographics to explain to people what the requirements are, and what documents they need. It’s like when you get to a point that you’ve had enough—you’re just so fed up, and I think everyone was feeling the same. I talked to my friends, and all of them were on the same page. They pretty much said that they can’t (fight) anymore. They said, ‘I have to review my future, and where am I going to be at? Will DACA be gone soon? Will I have to go back to my country? Should I go back?’”

Moreno said she’s fortunate, because she has two years of DACA protection left.

“I know I’m privileged to have DACA right now,” Moreno said. “Still, working with COFEM and knowing about all the other applicants, I didn’t know how to tell them that they can’t apply. That same day, I had to communicate with one parent who was interested in applying for DACA for his son. He had everything ready—the application and the money order. He just wanted the greenlight to send it. It broke my heart to tell him that under this memo, you can’t (apply), but we’re going to continue fighting. He was upset. But I started thinking about what else I could do to support (the parent). I asked, ‘Hey! Is your kid thinking about going to school, or is he in college right now?’ He told me that his son had just graduated from high school, but because he doesn’t have DACA, he can’t get a work permit. So, I told him right then that his son doesn’t need DACA to go to a two-year college. I know that DACA helps because you are able to have a job—to have that income to support your studies or get a car. But, at the end of the day, you can still go to college even without DACA.

“I told him about the Dreamer (Resource) Center at the College of the Desert, and the student club that I could help connect his son with. So he lit up and told me all this was great news. He said he would talk to his son about going to college, or at least taking a class or two, so he could connect to the resources. It made me think that there are probably a lot of cases like that, and that this is what the potential DACA applicants are dealing with right now. They want to seek a higher education, but they feel that they can’t. If they don’t know the resources (available to them), then I can only imagine what the state of their mental health is right now.”

In the early 2000s, when she was 8 years old, Moreno and her family left Michoacán, Mexico, before settling in the Coachella Valley. They managed to maintain a foothold in this country despite numerous challenges.

In June 2012, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano issued a memorandum establishing the policy known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

“When I graduated from high school in 2012,” Moreno said, “it was just a couple of months before (President Barack) Obama’s executive order establishing the DACA program. I had already decided to go to community college, and because DACA was new at that time, and it had never been done before, there was still a lot of fear in our communities, and I was hesitant to apply right then. When my sister and I—she’s now in DACA, too—saw that it was safe to apply, and that people were getting their work permits delivered to them, we figured it would be best to apply. So we did, and I think that helped me gain more confidence.

“In high school, I was very involved, but then I became really discouraged since I couldn’t attend a four-year college because of my status. Not that it was impossible for me, but the economic hardships were there, and I couldn’t afford it. Thankfully, though, with the support of my mom, we (managed) to pay for my first semester at the College of the Desert. Also, the California Dream Act had been passed, so we were able to apply for state financial aid.”

According to the California state website, “the California Dream Act allows students interested in attending eligible California colleges, universities and career education programs to apply for state financial aid. It is unrelated to the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.” It became law in 2011.

Moreno said she at first struggled with her status during her college years. “I went to a conference at UCLA for undocumented students, and I think that’s what brought me back to my old self and got me really involved in the community,” she said. “That’s when I officially came out of the shadows. Before that, I was afraid to share my status with friends and other folks. But going to this conference made me realize that I wasn’t alone, and it helped to bring my motivation back.”

Moreno completed her college education after transferring to Cal State Fullerton. Her a future as an immigrant-rights advocate solidified as she participated in school clubs such as Alas Con Futuro (Wings for the Future) at COD, and the Titan Dreamers Resource Center at Fullerton, where she co-founded the Dream Co-op, also known as the Diversity-Resilience-Education-Access-Movement-Cooperation student lab. She was also accepted for an internship with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA). According to the organization’s website, CHIRLA’s mission “is to achieve a just society fully inclusive of immigrants.”

“When I graduated, I thought about staying in Fullerton, but it was difficult to find a job,” Moreno said. “Then I saw a position here in Palm Desert with an attorney who was looking for someone who had an immigration background. I came and took the job, but I was only there for a month. I realized that being involved over in Fullerton, and again in L.A. with CHIRLA, if I came back to the valley, I needed to get involved with other organizations.

“That’s how I came across COFEM. I got an email from the club adviser at the College of the Desert that they were looking for volunteers for a citizenship clinic. So, I thought, ‘Hey! This organization’s mission is to empower immigrant communities, and that’s perfect.’ So, I went to volunteer. I think they were expecting a big event, so pretty much the whole (COFEM) team came down (from L.A.), and I got to meet them. They told me they were hiring, so they interviewed me on the spot.”

Moreno said she wasn’t prepared yet to work for COFEM—"but it was definitely meant to be.”

“On Sep. 5, 2017, Trump first terminated DACA. I called COFEM (again) to ask if they were doing any advocacy on DACA, because Trump had terminated the program. They asked to come to L.A. to talk again. So I did, and they hired me. In the beginning, my main focus was to support undocumented students, but then I started taking on more responsibilities with the organization. I’ve been working there almost two years now. Still, it’s crazy (this job) happened due to the termination of DACA.”

Both Moreno and Beaman Jacinto pointed out that DACA is just a small part of the work that needs to be done on behalf of the nation’s immigrants.

“We want people to understand the importance of a permanent solution (to the U.S. immigration quandary) and not having something temporary,” Moreno said. “Also, they should know that we’re going to continue fighting.”

Said Beaman Jacinto: “There’s been a lot of focus on DACA for the last eight years, since it became law under President Obama. It’s been an important step in the right direction, but it’s a very limited program that only serves a very limited number of people, and not even all youths are covered by it. So it was a small step in the right direction—but there is so much work still to be done.”

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