If not now, when will Dreamers be seen as Americans?
I am the oldest daughter of Mexican immigrants. My dad arrived in the United States in the late 1980s and was a beneficiary of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. He became a permanent resident and gained a pathway to citizenship in 1987. My mom became a U.S. citizen a year later, after she and my dad were married. I was born a year after that.
I grew up in Encino and attended Catholic schools. I traveled to Mexico every couple of years to visit family members and heard stories of my family’s struggles with living in poverty. I also saw the poverty in which many of my family’s neighbors lived.
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Here in Los Angeles, I saw the fear and anxiety in which many of my relatives lived because they, unlike my parents, were undocumented. The emotional and mental strain of their instability was agonizing. I watched, feeling powerless, as my cousins hid under the couch every time they heard a siren, in fear that their parents would get deported.
I noticed, too, the disproportionate finances of our households. My parents were homeowners, able to afford the private-school tuition for my sister and me, and able to afford going on vacation. My uncles lived in apartments and did not have the luxury of taking time off work for a vacation. They kept count of the years since they had seen the home they left for a better future.
I celebrated with my family as, one by one, my relatives became permanent residents and American citizens. We kept a tally of who was undocumented in our family, and as the number shrank, we naively came to believe that our worries were over.
But after the White House announced it planned to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects children of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents, many of those worries began to creep up. Not for myself, not for my family, but for Dreamers — the approximately 800,000 recipients covered by the program.
American all but in name, Dreamers entered the United States at the average age of 6, many even younger.
When DACA was established in 2012, its recipients were not offered a permanent residency or a pathway to citizenship. Instead, they received renewable two-year work permits and a Social Security number. Without fear of deportation, they entered the workforce and many enrolled in colleges and universities.
A Social Security number also offered DACA recipients the ability to obtain a driver’s license and to open bank and credit card accounts.
It is easy to take for granted obtaining a driver’s license when in California the law allows a person as young as 15 1/2 to get a driver’s permit. But having to decide whether to risk driving without a license is common for undocumented individuals. Not only must they live with the fear of getting pulled over or getting into an accident, they increase the risk for everyone else on the road because their driving skills are not fully vetted.
This is one of the ways in which the establishment of DACA benefited not only its recipients but the community at large. The access to a driver’s license has meant safer roads for all of us.
Another way in which the larger community benefits is through taxes that DACA recipients pay. A 2014 report by the American Immigration Council found that almost 60 percent of the DACA recipients surveyed had obtained a new job since qualifying for the program, and about 45 percent indicated that their earnings had increased.
While DACA recipients have benefited greatly from the program and have been shielded from deportation, recipients do not have a pathway to citizenship and therefore do not qualify for Social Security benefits. Nor can they apply for financial aid from the federal government.
As a result of President Donald Trump’s decision, DACA recipients whose permits expire after March 5, 2018, stand to lose the protection and benefits that the program provided, and now with the added fear that the government has the information on who they are and where they live.
Dreamers have grown up in this country with their right hand over their hearts, pledging their allegiance to the U.S. and believing in the promise of “liberty and justice for all.” The passing of the Dream Act by Congress is long overdue. Dreamers are American in all but name.
And if not now, then when will they be recognized as such?
Tracy Escobedo, a Los Angeles native, is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and a Jew by Choice.