DACA Isn't Just a Debate to Me

Growing up undocumented with immigrant parents, I was made aware of my status and the limitations it imposed on me. I learned to always be cautious and not to trust the promises made and broken by politicians. I learned not to be hopeful. 

When I learned about Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA), my hope was restored. I looked forward to feeling secure about going to college, obtaining a job and living without fear of deportation. I just needed to wait until I was 16, my mom would say, and then we would start the application process. 

However, things didn't go according to plan. When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, after running a campaign based on targeting immigrants, many undocumented students and their families were advised of the danger of applying to DACA for the first time. So my mom and I decided not to go through with the application with the fear that it might put me at risk if the Trump administration were to phase out DACA. 

Then the Trump administration announced that it planned to phase out DACA in 2017. For me, this meant that I would continue as I was, uncertain of the future and jumping through undiscovered hoops. For the approximately 700,000 students who already had DACA, this meant that they would lose the sense of security they had been provided with through this temporary legislative order. Now, not only would they lose that, but they would also face the fear of what comes afterward—the possibility of deportation and not being able to pursue the dreams they had set out with the help of DACA.

What is currently happening with DACA was not unforeseen. DACA was a temporary “solution” by nature. It was implemented at a time when organizing from undocumented youth was at its highest, and it was only made an executive order, not legislation. It did not stop deportations, and its requirements do not apply to all undocumented immigrants.

But even with that, DACA has been very successful, at least for the people who were able to meet the qualifications. 

This is the case for an undocumented student I spoke with who wished not to be identified for their safety and that of their family. This student has been under the protection of DACA for 5 years and, thanks to its protections, is attending university. They expressed that having DACA feels like, “In a certain way, you are unstoppable.” They were able to apply for more scholarships and to get an on-campus job, which wouldn't be possible if they didn't have DACA. Their biggest fear if DACA is removed isn't being unable to fund their education, but being unable to go through with the plans they had for their future after completing their education. 

This student also recognizes the limitations of DACA, explaining that their father would also have been able to apply for it if he were a few years younger. They express the anxiety they feel if their DACA application doesn't get accepted when they renew it. 

With or without DACA, undocumented students’ feelings of uncertainty and insecurity persist. As an undocumented student without DACA, I have always found it difficult to look to the future and imagine what I want to do, because it is not clear how I can do most things. The opportunities that DACA offered undocumented students allowed them not only to dream but to continue on a path to pursue those dreams. Now that path is being demolished. But I look for hope in the ongoing organizing efforts of undocumented youth. 

The undocumented youth movement is driven by the anger of seeing our immigrant parents and family disempowered and kept working with their heads down. Through their organizing, undocumented youth have shown that they will continue fighting and will not give in to fear tactics. We are persistent in defending DACA, and also acknowledge that there should be more extensive and inclusive laws that consider all undocumented immigrants. DACA or not, undocumented immigrants are here to stay. Fueled by our anger, the fight will continue.

Citlali Perez is a student at DePaul University.

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