Young immigrants reflect on the end of DACA

Ray Corona arrived in the United States in 2001. Corona works for Gay City, where he coordinates HIV education and prevention programs. He also helps to coordinate a free HIV testing program for the organization Entre Hermanos and is the founder of the LGBTQ organization Somos Seattle.

Corona is also one of the 18,000 young people in Washington state enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which President Donald Trump’s administration recently announced would come to an end.

The program gave young undocumented immigrants a sense of agency — and an opening of opportunities by being able to work, to pursue higher education and career goals.

Corona recognized that DACA was not a permanent solution, but he knew despite its faults, the program could help young immigrants establish themselves in ways that had previously been more difficult to achieve.

“DACA was never going to provide us with full protection from deportation; nevertheless, it provided us with work opportunities,” Corona said. “There is a need to be economically independent… and I knew this program would give me that opportunity. DACA is what allowed me to get a job.”

In November 2012, when President Barack Obama started the DACA program by executive action, Corona was in his last year at the University of Washington.

“Part of the reason why I went to college was to buy some time, time to avoid having a life without options or a life with limitations,” he said.

Corona decided to apply for the program and this allowed him to obtain a work permit. At that point he was offered job opportunity related to his career.

“So I graduated and started to work at the admission office at the UW-Bothell Campus,” Corona said.

Despite having to reapply for the DACA program every two years, it seemed like this program would permit Corona the opportunity to continue pursuing his career.

Everything changed when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the White House was rescinding the DACA program and would not take any new enrollees. Those already in the program would retain the protections until their enrollment expired.

The current administration also announced that DACA recipients with a work permit expiring before March 2018 had until Oct. 5 to submit an application to receive a two year permit.

Corona was not eligible to renew his permit because it expires in 2018 after that cutoff. He contends he is not leaving the U.S.

“I am in the process of applying for a business license,” he said. “It is curious that the government does not want undocumented immigrants to have legal options to work, but of course they can have a business.”

Corona pointed out the inequities in the United States’ current immigration system, citing the EB-5 visa program as an example.

“If you have more than $500,000 to invest in the United States you can have a work visa. It is evident, our immigration system is meant to favor those with more wealth while taking advantage of impoverished immigrants,” he said.

Luis Alpizo has a passion for working with youth. He volunteers to help youth with after school activities, such as homework or organizing basketball games. Sometimes he’s just there to listen to their everyday problems.

Since Alpizo arrived to the United States he has been moving from one state to another. His first residence was in Texas, then he moved to Idaho and then he decided to move to Seattle where he lives now with his wife and newborn.

“Growing up in a family where nobody has a legal status in the United States, I would see my dad go to work early and he come back home late, so my sister and I never had an opportunity to spend time with my dad we really never saw him,” Alpizo said. “He started drinking, to be happy he had to be drinking a beer, and I was able to understand why did he feel like that, because I have worked in construction labor and it is hard.”

“First I had an order of deportation, this was before president Obama announced DACA, and what happen is that I was granted one year in the USA,” he explained.

Alpizo was eligible for DACA and his situation changed drastically.

“Within that year I was able to get a SSN, I was able to get a driver’s license in the state of Idaho, and work in a job where I believe I was making an impact in the community,” he said.

He has built a life and family in the United States, and, like Corona, he intends to keep it. He and his wife are exploring if it’s possible to get a green card.

“Our plan, in case nothing happens, it’s either move back where my family is and just work in construction,” Alpizo said. “My previous job, before working for a nonprofit organization, was in construction and I can tell you it is long, long hours. It is difficult, it is hard on the body, and I work with my dad. I understand what he goes through. Another option is to go back to Texas where my wife’s family is.”

Faride Cuevas, who grew up in Burlington, arrived in 2002 through Los Angeles.

“There we waited for my sisters and my mom to arrive,” she said. “I passed first, I waited two weeks until my mom and my sisters passed through the border.”

Cuevas was attending UW-Bothell when DACA started.

“When the program was announced I had taken the decision to transfer to UW Bothell,” she said. “I had three jobs and I had to take a few classes.”

Under DACA and a Washington state program that allowed young immigrants to get financial aid, Cuevas graduated from university and got internships and jobs working for lawmakers, including for Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self who represents Legislative District 21. She now works for King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles.

Cuevas is overwhelmed by the end of the program.

“When the program retracted I felt that the work I had put on so hard and focus in my career was betrayed to advance, to pursue a future doing policy, now I am uncertain,” Cuevas said.

She fears for her sisters and other immigrants who were too young to fully realize the potential of the program.

“My sisters just started university and they have not had the experience of having advanced networks,” she said. ”It makes me sad because in the sense policy is changing I am afraid they will not be able to have those opportunities,” she said.

Despite the program’s flaws, the DACA program provided Cuevas and other young immigrants visualize their futures, instead of having to live in the shadows. With work permits and freedom from the threat of deportation, DACA offered a feeling of agency — and dignity.

Despite the end of DACA, Cuevas and others are not giving up on their ambitions, nor are they abandoning the lives they’ve established in the U.S.

“There are other options,” Cuevas said. “My parents were able to raise us here, so I know I can keep on going, just not the way I planned it.”