Fighting for DREAMers Under a Trump Administration

Fighting for DREAMers Under a Trump Administration

December 23, 2016

“I want dreamers to come from the United States. I want the people in the United States that have children, I want them to have dreams also. We’re always talking about dreamers for other people. I want the children that are growing up in the United States to be dreamers also. They’re not dreaming right now.” -Trump at a February press conference in North Carolina1

The target of President-elect Donald Trump’s above statement are the “DREAMers”: undocumented youth in the United States with hopes and dreams for a better future. The term comes from the DREAM Act (short for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act), a legislative bill that would provide undocumented youth who grew up and were educated in the United States with a path towards permanent residency. Despite being reintroduced multiple times since its initial presentation in 2001, the DREAM Act has never made it through Congress. Many DREAMers now rely on the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, an executive action that provides beneficiaries with temporary protection from deportation and a work permit. It is estimated that 15,000 youth in New Mexico alone are eligible for DACA, and 700,000 people throughout the US have already received immigration relief through this program.

As you may have heard (or could probably guess), President-elect Trump has promised to eliminate DACA immediately upon assuming office. And unfortunately, because it is an executive action, he can. In the statement above, as well as many other statements made both before and after his election, Trump makes two objectionable assumptions about DREAMers. First, underlying much of Trump’s rhetoric is the assumption that DREAMers are not ‘American’. Yes, these youth were not born in the United States, but this country is certainly their home. All DACA recipients arrived in the US as a child and have a US high school diploma, GED, or are in the process of getting one. Additionally, Trump continually purports that  the success of immigrants comes at the expense of people who were born here. Ensuring that immigrants can work legally and without fear of deportation will make the whole country stronger, not weaker.

Having had the opportunity through NMILC to work with DREAMers on DACA cases, I can attest to their work ethic, compassion, and dedication to their families. Here are the stories of two DREAMers in New Mexico that I have had the honor of working with.

Patricia2 is 21 and came to the United States with her parents when she was three years old. Her parents left everything behind in a rural area of Chihuahua, Mexico, in hopes of giving Patricia the opportunity to receive an education in the US. She applied for DACA as soon as she could and has been able to work ever since, supporting herself while taking a full course load at the University of New Mexico with the goal of becoming a doctor. When Patricia’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, Patricia began supporting her parents and helping them pay their medical bills. Patricia just renewed her DACA and is hoping it is approved before Trump takes office so she can continue attending UNM and supporting her family.

Maria is the single mother of a bouncy five-year-old. For years, she lived with her abusive ex-husband. After applying for DACA, she felt safer reporting the abuse to the police and was able to support herself and her daughter with her new work permit. When she called the police, a domestic violence shelter connected her with NMILC, where an attorney informed her that she was also eligible for a special visa for victims of violent crime. Her work permit through DACA allows Maria to have a job she likes and not worry about being separated from her daughter as she follows the two year wait period for her visa.

We don’t know exactly what will happen with the program on January 20th, but we hope that Dreamers like Maria and Patricia will be able to continue to benefit from the peace of mind that DACA brings.We know that we’re stronger together; when more young people in the US have security and employment opportunities, it benefits not only those individuals but their families, their community, and their country.

What are some steps NMILC is taking now?

  • Acting Fast: At pro se workshops and through direct representation, NMILC is working hard to complete as many DACA renewals as possible before Trump takes office.
  • Screening for Permanent Paths: Whenever NMILC works with a client, we make sure to conduct an intake that screens for eligibility for other types of visas that could eventually lead to citizenship, such as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, a special type of visa for minors that have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both of their parents. In 2016, over 40% of individuals that we screened were in fact eligible for a permanent path.  
  • Educating the Community: Since the election, there has been a lot of confusion regarding what will happen under a Trump presidency. While no one knows all the answers, we are working with other organizations to inform the immigrant community on their rights and what changes we can expect under the new administration.

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1. Donald Trump on DREAMers: DACA Is ‘Great’ But Gives Disadvantage to US-Born Children
2. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.