On September 5, the Trump administration announced the end of Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which was instituted in 2012 by the Obama administration, and sought to give work permits and alleviate the fear of deportation for almost 800,000 immigrants who were brought to the US by their parents. After the news broke, activists throughout the country sprang into action, organizing rallies, and pressuring sympathetic politicians to take a stand. Much of the passion around the issue seemed to stem from a collective assumption of who DACA recipients are, and why they do or don’t deserve to be in the US.
Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions both used anti-immigration rhetoric to back up the decision — Trump said in a statement that the choice to end DACA came out of a need to support “the millions of Americans victimized by this unfair system,” and Sessions claimed DACA had “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs,” (a claim that has been proven false — immigrants actually create thousands of jobs in the US). But it was those who support DACA whose voices were the loudest in response.
Though he has purposefully stayed quiet during many of Trump’s more controversial moments, former President Barack Obama responded to the DACA announcement in a statement posted on Facebook which said, in part, that Dreamers were some of America’s “best and brightest.” He wrote, “They are that pitcher on our kid’s softball team, that first responder who helps out his community after a disaster, that cadet in ROTC who wants nothing more than to wear the uniform of the country that gave him a chance.”
Obama’s sentiment was echoed by many politicians on the left, including Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Nancy Pelosi, who headed straight to The White House to discuss the issue with Trump (reportedly over Chinese food). At 10 p.m. on the evening of September 7, after two days of protests, media coverage, and likely sorrow and anxiety in the homes of immigrants throughout the country, Trump, at the behest of Pelosi, tweeted, “For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about - No action!”
But a tweet that says “don’t worry!” means nothing to families who have already been torn apart, forced to live in the shadows, and spend their days and nights fearing the worst.
When Trump was elected, many immigrants knew that more fear and uncertainty lay ahead. He had already called Mexicans criminals and rapists. He threatened and then, in one of his first executive orders, tried to ban people from majority Muslim countries from entering the US. He appointed Jeff Sessions, a man who once “joked” that he “thought those guys [the Ku Klux Klan] were OK until I learned they smoked pot,” as Attorney General. And then, just days before his announcement on DACA, Trump pardoned the former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio is best known for detaining undocumented immigrants in unsanitary, overheated tents, handcuffing pregnant women while they gave birth, and terrorizing families in ways they’ll never recover from.
Bustle met with seven women who live this uncertainty every day. They are New Yorkers who take the subway to work, juggle classes and internships, eat too much pizza, watch Game of Thrones, and wish they could sleep in later on the weekends. They’re just like the rest of us. The only difference is, they live in constant fear that all of this could be taken away in an instant.
Monica Sibri, 25
“Trump has been terrorizing our community since he decided to run for president,” Monica Sibri, 25, the founder and advisor of CUNY DREAMers tells Bustle.
Monica is one of those young people Obama talks about. She has a clear vision for her own future, which involves working with IGNITE, a 5013c that helps young women run for office. She believes having more women in leadership roles and government positions will dramatically change her country for the better. She mentors other young DREAMers, and writes and speaks about the intersecting issues of immigration, feminism, and workers rights. Much of who she is as a person has to do with overcoming her traumatic childhood in Ecuador, which she left at age 10, and the ongoing struggles she and her siblings face as immigrants here in the US. “I’ve always known I’m a rebel,” she says.
As defiant as she may be, Monica is also aware that with Trump in office, the odds are stacked against her and her fellow immigrants. However, she refuses to stay in the shadows, or deny the parts of her story that aren’t quite the redemption narrative the media wants them to be. While much of the media paints DACA recipients as innocent and their parents as criminals, Monica rejects and speaks out against that stereotype. “I think we need to take responsibility for our mothers’ pain,” she says. “They risked their lives for us — we need to ask them about that, and build a community of support around them.”
Angie Kim, 34
Another noteworthy activist, Angie Kim, 34, works as a community organizer with MinKwon Center for Community Action. Minkwon helped Angie and her family through much of the immigration processes when they came here from South Korea in the early nineties, when Angie was only 9. When she received DACA status in 2013 (at the age of 25), Angie was eager to give back and help others.
“[Having DACA] has taken me to places I never thought I would ever have the chance to experience,” she tells Bustle. “I had the opportunity to sit down with President Obama back in 2013 with a group of fellow young undocumented folks to share our stories and really humanize the issue of immigration reform.”
For Angie and many of the women Bustle spoke with, the humanization of immigrants is what is so painfully absent from the current debate, and certainly from the flippancy of Trump’s decisions.
“When we talk about the people who are affected by the end of DACA, we have to think about the rest of the immigrants, and make sure the conversation around DACA doesn’t promote this narrative of ‘good immigrants versus bad immigrants,” she explains. “It’s very important for me as an organizer, it’s very important for our community and our movement, to make sure that every single undocumented person is considered just as important. Their lives are just as important.”
In 2002, Illknur’s family traveled to the US from Turkey when she was 9, and then overstayed their visas so her brother could get better treatment for autism. Now 25, Illknur reflects on how little she understood about the sacrifices her parents were making at the time, but says that a new sense of hope was granted to all of them when DACA was announced in 2012. “They’re my parents, and they care about their children more than themselves,” she tells Bustle. “They were very excited about the announcement [in 2012] and all the opportunities it was going to give me.”
For Ilknur, having DACA status was a liberation she hadn’t even dreamed of for herself. “I was able to drive for the first time. I was able to apply for jobs. I was able to apply for internships. I felt like I had this path in front of me that I was able to see so clearly,’ she says. “It was an amazing feeling.”
And now? Now Ilknur is less certain of that path, but she is not ready to quit. “I have all these goals and ambitions, and I can’t physically stop myself from trying to achieve them. I was already enrolled in a coding bootcamp before the September 5 announcement, and that’s not something I’m gonna quit. I’m not just going to unenroll because of this announcement.”
Stevieanna Elva, 23
Stevieanna Elva, 23, isn’t as hopeful. Her family is from Saint Lucia, an island that has been affected by several hurricanes this year. Her parents sold their successful bakery and all the land it was on to come to the US in hopes of having more opportunities. Now Stevieanna fears that should she be deported, there will be nothing for her to return to.
She received DACA status in 2012, which allowed her to get a full-time scholarship and attend John Jay College, where she majors in cell and molecular biology. Stevieanna was planning on applying to medical school after graduation, but now, she really doesn’t know.
“I kind of feel like I don’t belong here in America,” she tells Bustle. “Sometimes when I go to school, I question why I am bothering since I won’t be able to live my dreams. I question every single thing now. What’s going to happen in six months? It’s so hard to cope with — just the thought of losing DACA.”
Stevieanna is part of a “mixed status” family. Her sister married an American and now has a green card. Her younger brother was born here, so he’s a citizen. If she loses her DACA status, she’s the only one who could be deported to St. Lucia. Even if that happens, she says, she’s still grateful for the sacrifice her parents made by bringing her family to the US.
“My parents brag about me, saying how smart I am and stuff like that,” she says. “I definitely think I owe it to them to keep going, to be something great.”
Pamela Chomba, 28
Pamela Chomba, 28, came to the US from Peru when she was 11. She currently works with FWD.us, a bipartisan advocacy organization started by the tech industry which boasts founders including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and is supported by major leaders in Silicon Valley. "Since the September 5 decision, we've seen an outpouring of support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, business leaders, faith leaders and others who recognize the tremendous value that young Dreamers who are entrepreneurs, doctors, nurses, or EMT first responders bring to their communities,” Pamela tells Bustle.
Pamela hopes this coalition will help persuade congress to pass The DREAM Act, which would protect thousands of immigrants from deportation. “I think we saw on September 5 that although the [Trump] administration ended DACA, we saw many voices from both the Democratic and the Republican parties speak up and say, 'we need a permanent solution for these individuals who came here when they were young.’”
As part of her argument for The DREAM Act, Pamela points out that if it’s approved by congress, our economy is set to increase and boom. She’s right about this. As reported by the Center for American Progress, “at least 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies — including Walmart, Apple, General Motors, Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, Home Depot, and Wells Fargo, among others — employ DACA recipients. All told, these companies account for $2.8 trillion in annual revenue.”
“I know a lot of DACA recipients who are creating more jobs for ordinary citizens,” says Pamela. “I know DACA recipients that are literally saving lives, or studying to save lives. And that is their priority, regardless of their status.”
Escarleth Fernandez, 19
When she was only a few months shy of turning four, Escarleth Fernandez, 19, came from Bolivia with her parents, who had a dream of “getting to and making it in the land of freedom.” Now, 16 years later, she’s a junior and a pre-med student at Hunter College, majoring in media studies with a minor in chemistry. After the September 5 announcement, she felt scared, and saw fear and anxiety in all of her immigrant friends and family as well.
“When [the September 5] announcement was made, I had to go to a secluded place where no one could see me because I just started crying,” she tells Bustle. “I was also in exams that week, so I had to tell myself that it’s going to be OK. I couldn’t just go up to my professor and say I can’t take a test because I need to go home and explain what all this means to my parents.”
For Escarleth, her parents are as much a part of this as she is. None of her dreams would be possible without them. “They’re also dreamers,” she says. “They had a dream to come and they did — to give us a better life.”
Like many of the women Bustle spoke with, Escarleth is tired of her future being used as a political pawn. “First you say ‘we are going to help you,' and then they say, 'no, nevermind.' Then they say we steal jobs. Then all the sudden we’re ‘great people.’ I don’t understand what’s happening with the administration and where they want to place us,” she says. “The reality is there’s also this fear of deportation. The Department of Homeland Security has all our personal information, which includes names, addresses, schools we go to, and everything.”
Escarleth is also interested in dispelling another myth about DACA recipients. “Everyone wants to say that we’re these perfect kids, perfect students, that we’re all going to be doctors or engineers, but that’s not a fair expectation. We’re all flawed too. We should be allowed to make mistakes.”
Mirella Ramirez-Munoz, 21
After the death of her grandmother, Mirella Ramirez-Munoz, then 8, now 21, migrated from Mexico to the US. She didn’t learn about her undocumented status until she was a senior in high school, and she applied for DACA as soon as she could. Once she was approved, her life changed considerably.
“With DACA I have been able to work, which has given me the opportunity to help my parents with expenses and pay my college tuition. In addition to jobs, I have been able to participate in various paid internship programs that have allowed me to make a positive impact on my community.” DACA has even granted Mirella the opportunity to visit her family in Mexico for the first time in 12 years.
For Mirella, DACA isn’t just about young people, opportunities, and immigration reform — DACA is also a feminist issue. “You have to think about single, working mothers,” she says. “This uncertainty we’re currently facing is counteracting the stability we’ve worked so hard to achieve. Many DACA recipients have started their own families, they have houses, cars, businesses — with or without papers, those are things we’ve built that should not be taken away from us.”
How To Fight For DACA Recipients Right Now
If you want to help those people whose lives may be impacted by the termination of DACA, you can take the below steps.
- Put your money to work. “Terminating DACA will result in job loss, risk or deportation, and family separation,” explains Angie. But your money can go a long way. Beyond donating to immigrant rights organizations like FWD.us, also consider sponsoring a DACA recipient. The application fee is $495 — a high price for someone who isn’t allowed to work legally.
- Talk about it. “The best way for millennial women to help DACA recipients is to educate others,” says Mirella. “There are so many misconceptions regarding DACA and immigration policy. Get informed and speak up whenever someone tries to use those misconceptions to justify the injustices against undocumented immigrants.”
- You know the drill — pick up the phone and call your representatives. “Allies can call Congress and demand their representatives immediately support the DREAM Act. Only Congress can fix this,” explains Pamela. She points to Dreamers.FWD.us as a starting point, and also recommends supporting local immigrant organizations that work with families who are dealing with fear and uncertainty. You can find your local organizations at informedimmigrant.com or immigranteformado.com. “Be a good ally,’ says Pamela. “Show up, volunteer, call and join our fight.”