|2/1/2018 9:00:00 AM|
Local DACA recipient dreams
of a secure future in the U.S.
BY EMILY BENSONAt the age of two, "Anna" (name withheld for privacy) was brought to the United States by her parents from Durango, Mexico. Her father knew there were not many opportunities for work in Durango and wanted better opportunities for his family.
Now a college student, Anna is one of 800,000 beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) for young undocumented immigrants whose status in the U.S. is threatened as Congress debates the program's future.
A parishioner of St. Lucy/St. Bernadette Church in Altamont, Anna is also a freshman at Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) in Troy. She dreams of earning her Doctor of Pharmacy degree.
But, without the protection of DACA, she could be deported to a country she's never known. The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act that would offer a pathway to citizenship for people in her position is still in limbo. Unless Democrat and Republican lawmakers agree on a solution, DACA will end March 5.
"My first worry is getting removed," Anna told The Evangelist. "I don't even know how it will happen, but I've heard of [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] showing up to schools or jobs. My mom says, when I drive, try not to get pulled over."
In 2012, then-President Barack Obama created the DACA program through an executive order to ensure protection for young adult undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as minors. About 42,000 DACA recipients currently reside in New York State.
Last September, President Donald Trump announced plans to remove DACA, making any child brought to the country illegally -- regardless of having been educated or working in the U.S. -- eligible for deportation as early as this spring.
"It was weird, because all of a sudden, I felt like I didn't belong here," Anna said. "I felt like I didn't have my rights."
The decision was widely criticized by many politicians, private citizens and immigrant advocates, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It struck fear in thousands of "Dreamers" -- a nickname for young undocumented immigrants that came from the DREAM Act.
"Most of the young adults [in DACA] didn't have a choice to be brought here....That was done for a positive change," Anna explained. "We were brought here to make this country better."
Growing up, Anna hadn't realized at first that anything about her life was different. She attended Guilderland High School, where she ran cross-country and track and field. She has two younger sisters (both born in the U.S. and legal citizens) with whom she loves to bake, and enjoys jogging with her mother when the weather is warm. She attended her high school proms and hung out with friends.
When she was seven, Anna realized the situation that her family was in: Her father tried to apply for asylum in the U.S., but was denied.
"It worried me that I would have to leave everything and go back to Mexico," Anna recalled. "I speak Spanish with my parents, but I don't know how to write or read it very well. It would be like going back to kindergarten."
In 2014, when Anna was a freshman in high school, two attorneys from the pro-bono agency The Legal Project came to her family's former parish in Albany to discuss the DACA program with eligible parishioners. Anna applied and was approved. She got her driver's license and a job at a cafe.
When applying to colleges, she received a large scholarship from her top school, Siena College in Loudonville, but even paying half the tuition was still beyond her reach.
"I didn't know how to explain I can't apply for FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid], because I'm not a citizen," she said.
Instead, she began her studies at HVCC, hoping to eventually attend the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. But with the looming possibility of DACA's removal, Anna's parents worry about the possibility of their daughter deported.
"They're afraid for my future," she said.
Lean on faith
Despite that fear, Anna and her family are staying optimistic and trusting in their faith. After joining St. Lucy/St. Bernadette parish last year, they became close to the parish community. They say everyone is supportive of their situation.
"I think, the more faith you have, the more positive outcomes will arise," Anna remarked. "Faith gives you something to lean on. Anything that worries you, put it into faith."
If she's allowed to stay in the country and finish her education, she hopes to do volunteer work at an agency like The Legal Project and help other local Dreamers. Down the line, Anna also wants to obtain citizenship in the United States.
With her new identification, she dreams of traveling the world. Her first stops, she says, would be Italy and Greece.
"If I travel now, I might not be able to come back. But, if I'm a citizen and I have that identification, I'll feel free."
Anna hopes that the lawmakers who hold her future in their hands will learn to see Dreamers as people like her: a normal young adult with aspirations and plans to make her home, the United States, that much better.
"We were brought here for our future, so it's unfair to say we're here illegally," she said. "I want there to be a program that's there for Dreamers, and helps them to achieve their dreams."
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