Think Immigration: My Initial Lifeline Was DACA

7/10/24 AILA Doc. No. 24071002. DACA
Image of a protester holding up a sign.

It has been twelve years since the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was announced, and nearly twelve years since DACA applications began to be accepted by USCIS. The program was a timely lifeline for me. On the day of the announcement, like many times before, I was participating in a protest to bring attention to the plight of the undocumented community.

Like all DACA recipients, I arrived with my family in the United States as a child. Unlike many, I didn’t find out about my undocumented status as a teenager or while applying for college. I found out at the age of 8 while trying to apply for a dance scholarship at my local performing arts school. I wanted to become a professional dancer.

Unfortunately, President Obama’s eventual attempt to open the program for parents was shut down. Thus, only certain children who fit a specific set of eligibility criteria could benefit from it. While I was one of those eligible, one of my brothers did not make the cut.

Like many others, I was skeptical of applying for an immigration process that we knew very little about. I waited a few months before applying, after all, this was a temporary program. Providing my location information also meant providing my brother’s location and placing him in danger was not an option. Upon witnessing a few approvals and seeing no negative consequences, I finally decided to apply and realized that for an undocumented person, my presence in this country was extremely well documented; school records, medical records, tax returns, and even an old receipt for an approved I-130 petition, for which I was a[n] (aged out) derivative. I’d been part of the fabric of this country since day one of my arrival.

At age 15, I learned to put an immigration file together for immigration consultations. I was sure that one day, I would find an immigration attorney along the way who would eventually tell me I had a pathway to citizenship aside from marriage. While thankful for the many consults I received over the years, I eventually did find the attorneys I’d hoped for (this is where my interest in business immigration arose, thanks to AILA members Megan Kludt and Dan Berger), but there were many other steps to take, thus applying for DACA only made sense. By the time I was convinced I’d apply for DACA, I had also gained enough immigration training to put my own file together.

By the time DACA came around, I had already graduated college but hadn’t really been able to “adult” yet - even having a college degree had not changed my legal reality. I continued to live under this perpetual state of “childhood,” still living at home and nearly fully dependent on my parents. Having documentation, even if only temporary, was such a game-changer. A couple months after my initial DACA was approved, I moved to Washington, D.C. I was 30 years old, and for the first time, I was making adult moves. I packed the car I had just purchased and drove cross country. The drive and my first encounter with Border Patrol is another story. Let’s just say that Border Patrol was more confused than I was with my presence at a checkpoint.

I renewed DACA once, and again was one of the lucky ones. I obtained DACA and work authorization valid for three years before it was reverted to a two-year validity period. Shortly after, the program became a target of litigation, and suddenly, I was following the coverage of Judge Hanen and what he had said and done as DACA was in his hands. By this time, I had commenced the process of adjustment of status. Again, one of the lucky ones who was protected by a lawful entry (245(a)) and a grandfathered petition (245(i)), which meant I did not need to seek an advance parole or a waiver. Unfortunately, most of my friends did not hold such protections. They also didn’t have an active path toward legalization and guilt began to eat me up. Back and forth things swung, with one Administration trying to gut the program and the next trying to protect it with administrative tools.

It was a seesaw. I’d been working in the immigration field for many years now and witnessed how tough renewals became – delays and backlogs and always, always, that anxiety that this time applications might not go through and the life my friends and I had worked so hard for, could come crashing down. That’s the thing with Deferred Action – it’s a deferral program, not a guarantee of never being deported. Of never being swept up and removed. It’s not permanent.

There are hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients who don’t have a path forward. They, and so many others, need permanent protection. They are part of the fabric of our society, of our communities, of our nation. We need to acknowledge that and welcome them fully. I remain an advocate in all my capacities, and as a new naturalized U.S. citizen, my first vote will carry immigration as one of my focal points. President Biden’s recent announcement of Parole in Place for some spouses of U.S. citizens and D3 waivers for DREAMers is a great continuance, but definitely not where my community, my colleagues, or I stop. This issue is personal.

I invite AILA members and others interested in these issues to check out AILA’s Featured Issue: Executive Actions to Promote Family Unity and Help Dreamers. While uncertain about what the next few months may bring, remaining informed will certainly be the next best step. Onward!

About the Author:

Firm American Immigration Lawyers Association
Location Washington, District of Columbia USA
Law School
Languages Spanish
View Profile