Community Awareness Event on Local Dreamers, DACA
Last updated 2/11/2020 at 1:41pm
Immigration is currently one of America’s most controversial issues. Often lost in the heated debates on citizenship policies is the fate of many young people and their families living in Borrego Springs. They are called Dreamers, and the name of the complicated and confusing law, which their continued residence in the United States depends is called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).
Stereotypes, misinformation and heated political divides over citizenship policies often obscure the facts about DACA and Borrego Springs’ Dreamers. The facts and life of the Dreamers is the subject the Dream Club of Borrego Springs High School presentation special town hall meeting entitled, “United We Dream Borrego,” Saturday Feb. 15, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., at the UCI Steele-Burnand Anza-Borrego Research Center. The purpose is to present Borrego residents with facts about DACA with speakers from the perspective of Dreamers, the ACLU, and others to be announced.
“These are children who were not born here, but were brought here by family members at a very young age, and have lived the majority of their lives in Borrego Springs. They think of themselves as Americans, and yet live with the stigma of illegality and fear of deportation.
“There are also young families and DACA adults who work and live among us, contributing to our community,” said Andrea Taylor, president of the BSUSD Dream Club.
“They live day by day, unable to set aside fears of being torn from their families and shipped to countries to which they have no ties.”
Nationwide, there are an estimated 800,000 people who think of themselves as Americans, but are forced to exist in a limbo status at the mercy of politicians. They are college educated, employed, and live as good citizens. Younger Dreamers attend local schools, and all DACA recipients, despite paying taxes into social security and Medicare, and due to their status, cannot collect on these benefits and cannot receive federal benefits, including federal financial aid to attend college.
According to Taylor, there are two big misconceptions about Dreamers/DACA recipients. “The first is that they use federal programs, like Welfare, or Medicare. This is not true. They cannot apply for federal aid of any kind. The other is that some are criminals. The truth is, they undergo FBI background checks every two years, and three minor misdemeanors are grounds for non-renewal of their DACA work permit and possible deportation.
The Dream Club was founded by a student wanting to support his friends, most of whom he had grown up with from kindergarten through high school. Friends who he did not find different from other classmates, except for an unsettled immigration policy.
“Borrego High School is like family. Most of the kids have known each other since elementary school. The small school population increases familiarity and solidarity among the kids,” says Taylor, who points out the average graduating class is 30 students.
The club was begun in 2017 as a response to President Trump rescinding DACA, which was created by executive order of former President Obama as an emergency measure to cover children brought illegally to the country, and is part of a larger unresolved debate on immigration policy. DACA was to be followed by a permanent solution called the Dream Act. Congress failed to pass the Dream Act in 2010 by four votes, leaving the children in an immigration limbo to this day.
Today, Dreamers find themselves caught in a Catch-22 of federal and state laws, without any permanent solution in sight, while the issue awaits clarification via the United States Supreme Court with an expected decision in early spring of 2020.
Reasons for rescinding DACA rest on a court case led by seven states, including Texas, claiming President Obama’s executive order was illegal. The argument, also supported by the current administration, holds that the act by Obama was an overreach of presidential executive powers and that it could not withstand a court challenge. However, DACA was challenged in court in 2013, and upheld. The Texas court case continues, with a federal judge refusing to shut down renewals of DACA work permits in June 2018. The court rationale was that eliminating the program would harm DACA recipients more than the state of Texas. Congress was directed to come up with a replacement program by 2018. This has not happened.
Concurrently 15 state attorneys general, led by New York State, filed a lawsuit against the Federal government for rescinding DACA. California’s Attorney General and the Universities of California are parties to the suit. Due to this action, DACA renewals are protected until the Supreme Court rules.
However, as of 2017, when the Trump Administration rescinded DACA, there can be no new applicants, only renewals of existing work permits. This creates a situation where some have temporary protection, while others in the same circumstances have no legal recourse and live with the fact their families could be ripped apart at any time.
The current realities are: Given the failure of the federal government to provide a solution for these children, the Supreme Court could shut down the program entirely, taking them from being productive young people contributing to society and back into a permanent illegal status. Only those who arrived in the country prior to 2012, and lived in the US prior to their 16th birthday for at least five years – meaning proof of living in the US prior to June 15, 2007 are covered. If a child arrived after 2007, they do not qualify. The minimum age of applicants is 15, and the maximum is 30. Dreamers must be in high school, graduated from high school, in college or military.
A relatively unknown fact is that persons who qualify must pay $495 for the first application (called a work permit) and $495 to reapply every two years. There are discussions by the Trump administration to double this amount. Also refuting concerns that these young people, or their parents are “criminals, rapists and murderers,” they must apply for and pass an FBI background check and bio metrics every two years. Biometrics creates a federal record, including a photo, finger printing and signature agreeing to electronic capture. Failure to do so leads to deportation and denial of the permit. The bottom line is the intimate behavior and personal lives of these young people are monitored and becomes public record. The exposure and that of their families resulting from the application and renewals is a concern among many legal experts.
“Dreamers are also held to higher standards than other young people, while living in very stigmatized and tenuous circumstances,” adds Taylor.
The DACA permit grants a USCIS government work permit, and social security number. In some states, like California, Dreamers may apply for a driver’s license, in-state college tuition and state funding for college aid to attend California schools. States vary in laws limiting or allowing access to specific state benefits.
However, Dreamers do not currently have a path to a green card or citizenship. Those who are excluded as new applicants have an uncertain life, unable to plan for their future, and fear removal from their families, homes and country. Even those with DACA permits have no real legal status, and are only deferred from deportation while DACA lives.
Dreamers are prohibited from receiving federal aid of any kind including social security benefits, Medicare/medical benefits, or Federal Student Loan funding for college. This, even though Dreamers are required to pay into social security and other federal withholding.
“As a result of their status, Dreamers face many economic challenges,” Taylor explains.
“The Dream Club has raised money from fundraising activities such as a Pancake Breakfast, Carne Asada Dinner, yard sale and car wash. We also receive tax deductible individual donations. All funds are used to help Dreamers pay for work permits and college scholarships. Many Borregans have been very generous, recognizing the youths and young families as neighbors and friends trapped in a difficult situation.
“At our first community meeting in the library, we learned a young Dreamer had his wallet, containing his permit, stolen. The cost to replace the card was $495 dollars, same as the two-year renewal permitting fee. The good people of Borrego raised over $700 to help out that very night.”
Taylor hopes Borrego residents will attend this Community Awareness Event and benefit from the opportunity to learn the facts and meet the faces that are DACA, and their future in the quagmire of immigration issues, facing America and Borrego Springs.
“When I first got involved with the high school Dream Club, I was angry about the way DACA students and their families were treated and often portrayed as bad people. I was also sad about the seemingly dead-end situation the Dreamers have to endure,” notes Taylor.
“However, as a result of helping the club through the years, I have been blessed to be welcomed by many wonderful, hard-working, loving families and people with a culture deserving of appreciation and respect. It’s been therapy for my frustration at the lack of a positive resolution for these young people and an honor to know them.”