Dare to DREAM: Tips from youth navigating Deferred Action

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(Photo from Flickr by NYC Marines)
(Photo from Flickr by NYC Marines)

Imagine a thirteen year old boy trying to stay awake after walking more than three days in the desert. He’s so desperate for water that he drinks from a puddle where a dead body has fallen. 

Now imagine that seven years later that boy can’t get a legal job, go to college or visit his family, all because he’s an undocumented immigrant. 

That’s the story of Andres Rocete, and hundreds of thousands of children that are brought to the United States in hopes of a better future.

But finally, these youth see a light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offers them a chance to come out of the shadows to study and work legally in the US.

I talked to three friends who have applied for the program to find out how it’s working for undocumented youth and get tips for other young immigrants thinking of applying:

Why did you want to apply for a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) permit?

Yessica Atonal: Here in the United States, as we are, we have no opportunities to move forward. I would like to continue with my studies and get something better. Other people that I know have the opportunity that I cannot have because of my legal situation.

Andres Rocete: My need is to work freely without fear that I could be arrested for being illegal. Also I would like to return to school. When I obtain the permit, I would like to work for a year and support my family financially and to be able to save money so I can return to school.

Fabiola Duran: I came to this country to have a better quality of life. With that [DACA] permission I am going to be able to obtain a legal social security number. I am going to be able to continue with my life in the United States more easily.

What was you and your family’s reaction when they heard about DACA?

Yessica Atonal (Photo by Liliana Caracoza)
Yessica Atonal (Photo by Liliana Caracoza)

Yessica: My parents were happy and hopeful that we could get the permission and be able to move on.

It made me a little afraid that if we applied for the permit, we imagined two possibilities, either winning or losing. If we won I could get permission, but if I lost would needed to return to my country. Still, I preferred the risk then the fear of not trying. I knew that if I did not try I was not going to move on. My parents will not have to live with the fear that when we go out into the streets, we can be stopped by the police and immigration officers.

When we finally receive my DREAMer permit I will continue studying and I am going to be able to obtain a job more freely.

Andres: At the beginning my parents did not want me to apply, they believed the permission was only going to last for two years. They were afraid that after that period of time I needed to return to Mexico. My lawyer clarified that the permit would be renewable after those first two years. My mother was also afraid that the information for the process could be used against my family. The worst fear was that ICE could come to my house and arrest us. But we knew that applying was the easiest way to help my family and be for me to be able to work without risking much.

Fabiola: As soon as we heard of the permit that President Obama awarded, my dad wanted my brother and I to apply. My family had no fear of us applying. In a future when I graduate from high school, I can attend college and choose a career that can be exercised here in the United States. The process will be continuous, that is a big help for us as students to realize our dreams. It’s not just going to help us. It will help our entire communities.

What part of the process are you in?

Yessica: We are at the very end. As I understand it we are just waiting for the immigration department delivers us our work permit. It’s been approximately three months since we first sent the documentation to USCIS.

Andres Rocete (Photo by Liliana Caracoza)
Andres Rocete (Photo by Liliana Caracoza)

Andres: It’s been like a month since I sent my application to the immigration department. Next week I have my appointment for my fingerprints. I hear that this is a very important step.

Fabiola: I talked to my lawyer, and he is in the process of verifying the documents before sending them to the Department of Immigration (USCIS).

Have you faced any difficulties in the process?

Yessica: I don’t feel I’ve faced any difficulties. We’ve had the help of a great lawyer who took care of everything, Until now we have not being informed of any problems. We’re just waiting for the documents.

Andres: Yes, in collecting the necessary information for the process. I needed documents to show I had been living in the US all this time. My family never thought it would be important, so we don’t had any proof of our past addresses. The DREAMer procedure is all about information that shows that we had lived part of our lives in this country.

Fabiola: I had trouble finding record for my old school absences. I needed more evidence to prove that I did not leave the country.

Are there other people in your family applying for DACA?

Fabiola Duran (Photo by Liliana Caracoza)
Fabiola Duran (Photo by Liliana Caracoza)

Yessica: Yes, I have my two brothers, Daniel and Aldo. One is 17 and the other one is 20 years old. They are in the same stage of the process as I am.

Andres: No I’m the only one in my family applying for DACA, I have another brother who could not finish his studies. He had to stop to help the family; he left school and never returned.

Fabiola: No, my brother could not start the process because of lack of information. I and my brother are the only ones in my family that qualify.

If you were able to return to your country freely to visit, would you do it?  Why?

Yessica: Yes. That’s the place where I was born and raised. Also most of my family members live in Mexico. The truth is, it would be great for me to see my family again. The only relatives that I have here is two cousins and my uncle.

Andres: I would like to visit the rest of my family I have in my country. There’s my sister, she was the only one that stayed in Mexico. She is with my grandmother right now because my grandfather passed away recently and I wasn’t able to see him. My sister and my grandmother really need us by their side right now.

Fabiola: Of course. In Mexico I have my family and friends. My family and I are the only ones who are in the United States. I would not want to live in Mexico, only to see the people I love.

Requirements to be eligible for DACA:

  • Must have come to the US before age 16
  • Must have not yet turned 31 when the application is submitted
  • Must have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, and must have been physically present in the US in June 15, 2012
  • Must be currently enrolled in school, or have received a high school diploma or the equivalent GED.
  • Must not have been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor. (Anyone applying for deferred action must go through a criminal background check.)

For more information on Deferred Action visit US Citizenship and Immigration Services.