Lives in Limbo: DACA in East Texas

Ricardo Rodriguez spent much of his childhood in Athens, Texas, where he signed up for band in middle school and met his future wife in high school band.

His love of music took him to the University of Texas at Tyler, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Music.

Last fall, he achieved his goal of becoming a band director. He spent the semester teaching middle and high schoolers how to read, learn and appreciate music to the fullest. To some, he became a parental figure because of the support and encouragement he provided through the trials and tribulations of the marching band competition season.

Rodriguez soon will have to put his dream job on hold indefinitely as he loses his DACA status, taking away his ability to work legally in the United States.

Rodriguez is one of at least 690,000 immigrants who are active recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and could face deportation if and when their work permits expire.

On Sept. 5, a memorandum on the rescission of DACA was released by the Trump administration, a decision made partly in response to a letter sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions in June from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, attorneys general from nine other states and the governor of Idaho. The letter called for the complete rescission of DACA or the states would seek to amend the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) lawsuit to include a challenge to DACA.

PREVIOUS REQUIREMENTS FOR REQUESTING DACA

 
1. Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
2. Came to the United States before reaching 16th birthday;
3. Had continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
4. Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012 and at the time of making request for consideration of deferred action with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services;
5. Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012;
6. Were currently in school, had graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, had obtained a general education development certificate, or were an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
7. Had not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and did not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

So, what exactly is DACA? In short, it's a program that allows some immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to work legally in adulthood. In June 2012, then Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that certain people who came to the United States as children and met several guidelines may request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, allowing them to be eligible for work authorization without fear of being deported.

"If there is a young person here who has grown up here and wants to contribute to this society, wants to maybe start a business that will create jobs for other folks who are looking for work, that’s the right thing to do," former President Barack Obama said the day DACA was announced. "Giving certainty to our farmers and our ranchers; making sure that in addition to border security, we’re creating a comprehensive framework for legal immigration — these are all the right things to do." 

DACA does not put participants on a pathway to legal permanent residency or citizenship, but it does mean they can get a Social Security number, allowing them to legally work, obtain driver’s licenses and credit cards, and open bank accounts. DACA recipients, often referred to as "Dreamers," do pay taxes but are not eligible for federal aid, such as welfare, healthcare, pensions and financial aid for school.

Dreamers had to pay $495 for their initial application and each renewal every two years, after completing paperwork, a background check and providing their fingerprints. Some paid hundreds more for help from professional attorneys with their paperwork each initial application and renewal period.

The Sept. 5 announcement noted that there would be a six-month delay of the rescission of DACA and allowed applications and renewals to be submitted until Oct. 5.

"For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about - No action!" President Donald Trump tweeted two days after the announcement.

On Jan. 9, the same day President Trump hosted a bipartisan meeting to discuss immigration reform, which largely focused on DACA, U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco ruled the program must remain in place while the litigation is resolved. The ruling came after several states and groups, including the University of California, sued the Department of Homeland Security over the administration’s decision to end the program. With that, Alsup ruled the government must continue processing renewal applications from people who previously had been covered.

As of now, the March 5 deadline still stands, and Congress must come up with an agreement on what to do with DACA by then or let the program be terminated. 

In the past few months, Congress has passed multiple temporary spending bills to avoid federal government shutdowns while avoiding making a decision on DACA. Congress has until Jan. 19 to tackle some thorny issues before federal funding expires once again.

Recently, constituents in East Texas brought thousands of signed petitions in support of a clean Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act to Congressman Louie Gohmert's office. Pressure is mounting from both political parties, the media, the public and the president for a decision to made.

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

The Democrats have been told, and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration etc. We must protect our Country at all cost!

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While Dreamers may be safe for now, as many as 983 undocumented people previously covered under DACA would lose their protected status every day — nearly 30,000 people a month, on average — for the two years following the six-month delay in the termination of the program, according to a CNN analysis of Department of Homeland Security data.

"We as a community need to do better for those people," said Dalila Reynoso, program administrator with the East Texas chapter of Justice For Our Neighbors, which works with immigrant families and assists with family petitions and DACA renewals. "If we say we are God-fearing, loving people, then this is how we show the love and compassion for our neighbors. We shouldn’t say we love our neighbors only if they share our status — we were all immigrants at one point."

There are approximately 124,300 initial DACA recipients in Texas, meaning the Lone Star State is home to the second-largest DACA population after California. Immigrants from Mexico make up a little more than three-quarters of all DACA recipients, though Dreamers can be immigrants from any country.

East Texas certainly would feel the effects of a rescinded DACA program, as hundreds, possibly even thousands, of recipients reside, go to school and work in the region.

They are students, teachers, nurses, businesspeople, parents to young families and more. They are your neighbors and these are some of their stories.

RICARDO RODRIGUEZ, 22

ASSISTANT BAND DIRECTOR 

Born in Piedras Negras, Mexico | Brought to the United States at 6 years old

Calls Athens, Texas, home | DACA expires Winter 2018

Ricardo

Ricardo Rodriguez came to Texas with his family when he was 6. He had always loved music, so it was natural for him to join band in middle school. One day in seventh grade, his band director asked him to conduct the band. Since that moment, Rodriguez knew he wanted to be a band director.

Rodriguez played in the all-region band all four years of high school and even competed in state solo and ensemble. Rodriguez knew he wanted to study music in college but he didn’t know how it would be possible — all of his friends were applying for financial aid for school, but he couldn’t do so because of his status.

"I didn’t really know where I was going to be able to go after high school. Part of it had to do with I don’t have a choice because I don’t have a Social Security number ... and that’s when DACA came in and sort of saved the day," he said, talking about how he first got DACA in 2012 when he was 17. "I still didn’t get financial aid, but I was fortunate enough to get scholarships to pay for college."

Rodriguez graduated from the University of Texas at Tyler with a Bachelor of Music in May 2017 and soon after landed his dream job of teaching students music. Since last August, Rodriguez has worked as an assistant band director, teaching everything from beginner classes to marching band for sixth through 12th grade. "I don’t feel like I’m a parent, but I am a parent figure to them," he said.

"When I was student teaching I just had a place, a chair, but I never really belonged anywhere. It’s that feeling of having some place to go, some place to be, some place that I can call my own," Rodriguez said as he talked about the fulfillment he gets from working full time.

With DACA, Rodriguez has been able to get his driver’s license, put himself through college, work and provide a place to live for himself and for his wife, Macie.

"I know it’s something small, but before DACA, I was not able to fly on an airplane, and because of DACA, I was able to for a choir trip," he said.

Rodriguez says there is still a stigma around immigration in East Texas and he wishes there was more education on the topic. "I will quote our president: He thinks we’re 'bad hombres,' we’re 'rapists.' In my workplace, because they see and hear that, they don’t consider anything else but that.

"Then I say, 'What do you think about me?' And they’re like, 'What are you talking about? You’re different, you’re from here.' And I’m like, 'No, I’m not.'" he said.

"I’m not who you think I am. I’ve had a dream since I was in seventh grade," he said. "I didn’t have a choice to be here at the age of six. How can you call me a criminal when I didn’t have the judgment of an adult? I’m doing all I can to just fit in this society. I mean I’m doing all I can. I’ve worked so hard, I didn’t ask for any extra help, I didn’t ask for any special privileges, just to prove to you that I am just like you. I’m just a normal person."

BLANCA VILLANUEVA, 24

CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE

Born in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico | Brought to the United States at 10 years old

Calls Tyler, Texas, home | DACA expires Spring 2019

Blanca

Blanca Villanueva came to the United States as a young girl with her family on tourist visas to visit relatives, and they ended up staying in the area.

"I like the people here that are very friendly, because where I come from, they were not as friendly as they are here. And they are very welcoming — I think that’s one of the reasons we stayed here," she said.

Villanueva’s parents ended up starting their own family business in town, a tortas restaurant. "They don’t speak English, so I was the one that helped them get their licenses and certificates to be able to open a restaurant. I had to be a translator for them throughout the whole process of opening the two locations," she recalled.

Villanueva was excited about the educational opportunities in the states, and after high school, began studying education at Tyler Junior College to pursue her goal of becoming a teacher. Not being able to receive federal financial aid, Villanueva had to cancel her plans of transferring to the University of Texas at Tyler and discontinue her studies because of cost.

"I wanted to go to school really badly to be a teacher. That was my goal that I had. But then when you realize that you probably don’t have the same opportunities as people that are born here, you kind of have to change what you want to do, because the opportunity for you is maybe not open at the current time.

"That was one of the things that kind of didn’t work out for me, but I was able to get a job with DACA," she added.

Before DACA, Villanueva had only worked in the restaurant industry. Since receiving DACA in 2012, she has been able to work for the Boys and Girls Club, as an optician, and currently handles customer service and open policies for a local insurance company.

Villanueva asks that Americans put themselves in the Dreamers’ position.

"I think our parents came here with another mentality — not to break the law, they were coming here to find a better future for us and for them," she said. "I think that if they would’ve been in that position, they would have probably done something similar because everybody just wants to do better, you know? Nobody wants to stay stuck in a place where you’re not making it."

KARINA FRAGA, 17

HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT

Born in Distrito Federal, Mexico City, Mexico | Brought to the United States at 3 years old

Calls Tyler, Texas, home | DACA expires Winter 2018

Karina

After Karina Fraga’s father headed to Texas to find work to support his family back in Mexico, her mother decided the family should join him. Fraga’s mother made the dangerous trek through the Rio Grande River with her children (Karina, who was 3 at the time, and her brother, who was 5) and extended family members. After a few months, the family settled in Tyler.

Fraga is now a senior at Robert E. Lee High School who had been an avid soccer player growing up and who is now very active in her criminal justice class. There’s passion in her expression as she talks about everything she’s learned, excitedly saying she’s been certified in CPR and the class will soon be certified to receive 911 phone calls as well.

"In a way, whenever I first got my DACA (in 2016), it all just felt like a load off my shoulders," she said, noting that she carries her card with her everywhere to be safe. "Once I got it, my first thought was, I can get a job, I can go ahead and work for myself, I can get a car."

And Fraga did just that — she currently works two jobs and was able to buy her own car this year. "It feels good to (work and) give back to (my parents) after everything they gave back to me."

Fraga said she has experienced discrimination as a DACA recipient, noting that some students treated her differently upon finding out she was a Dreamer. One instance that stuck with her was during an activity in her government class where students had to propose a law, and one student proposed to abolish DACA.

"Once he said that, everything in me just tensed up. I felt everyone look at me and I just felt so targeted," Fraga said, explaining how she left the classroom and broke down outside.

"My parents and everyone in general in my family are just afraid that one day ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is just gonna come through the doors and take it all away from us," she said.

Fraga wants to pursue a career of helping others, and had dreamed of being a member of the United States Air Force, only to find out that she had to have papers and be a citizen. "Then I really looked into being a probation officer," she said. "People make mistakes and it’s a really good, helpful thing to have someone there that believes in you and is going to guide you to do the right things."

As of now, Fraga is interested in joining the National Guard, but she’ll still need papers. Since DACA isn’t a pathway to citizenship, Fraga is researching how to become a resident or citizen in order to join the National Guard and help her community.

"I’m not here taking everything away from people," she said. "I want to tell people what DACA does for me and how I’m just the same as them. I’m not less than them nor am I more than them."

See the full story from The Tyler Morning Telegraph here.

© 2018 KYTX-TV


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