The end of DACA has impact at home

Published 8:10 pm Friday, September 8, 2017


Yasmin Vasquez was 7 years old when she came to the United States. Her father, a housepainter by trade, brought the family — Vasquez, her mother, brother and sister — to Las Vegas where he’d followed other family members who had come to the U.S. from the Mexican state of Oaxaca to find work and a better life. It was 1997.

In 2003, the Vasquez family moved to Washington, in search of a quieter life in a smaller town. They had family here, as well. Vasquez enrolled as a freshman at Washington High School. After graduation, she got a job at Backwater Jack’s Tiki Bar and Grill, working alongside owner Cathy Bell in the kitchen, becoming a key employee who helped build the popular restaurant’s reputation and clientele, according to Bell.

Then, Vasquez didn’t have many options. She couldn’t attend college like many of her friends. She couldn’t get a driver’s license — that was, until 2012, when former President Barack Obama established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gave young, undocumented immigrants deferrals from deportation. The program applied only to immigrants who entered the country before they turned 16 years old and had been living in the U.S. since June 15, 2007.

Like more than 27,000 other young people in North Carolina, Vasquez fit the criteria. To apply for DACA was no easy task: she had to hire a lawyer, track down paperwork from schools and doctors to prove she’d lived in the U.S. for as long as she was claiming. She was fingerprinted and a criminal background check done. She met the guidelines and became what’s commonly known as a Dreamer. It dramatically changed her life for the better; up until that point, most of it had been spent hiding, she said.

“Even though you were a child, it was like you were in the shadow. It was like you were here, but at the same time, it was like you didn’t matter,” Vasquez said. “You couldn’t do what other people could: going to college, driving a car. I wanted to be a nurse so bad — I took two courses in high school — but I couldn’t do it, because I didn’t have a Social Security number.”

Ten years in, she’s still running the kitchen at Backwater Jack’s, a familiar face to the restaurant’s regulars. Her focus now is raising her 4-year-old son, Noah. Nursing school is still a dream, but a dream that was diminished with Tuesday’s announcement by President Donald Trump that the DACA program would end. Again, Vasquez’s life was changed dramatically, but this time by fear and uncertainty.

“I laid in my bed and cried. And all I wanted to do was to take my son to his first day of Pre-K, happy,” Vasquez said. “It still brings tears to my eyes. It was fear; I was sad, worried — it was a million emotions at once. It was like, ‘Why would they do this? What have I done so wrong?’” Vasquez said. “Does he not like us? Does he want us to go back in the shadow? Honestly, we’re not doing anything wrong, and I don’t blame my parents for trying to give me a better life.”

Vasquez is on her third deferral; every two years, she must reapply and pay for lawyer’s and application fees and to be fingerprinted again. The program is not a path to citizenship — it’s a cycle of two-year deferrals from deportation in which Dreamers like Vasquez can work and live in the place they call home. Like most Americans, Vasquez pays taxes; according to the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy, North Carolina’s DACA grantees pay more than $63 million in state and local taxes annually. Unlike most taxpaying Americans, she’s not eligible for any government programs including Medicaid, Obamacare, federal financial aid or food stamps.

“We got this opportunity, which is great. Then they take it away from you,” Vasquez said. “In that time, I was able to buy a car, get a driver’s license. I worked. I was thinking about buying a house. I was able to come out of the shadows and do what other people do without being scared. Everything I’ve done is because of my hard work — not asking for help, because we’re not allowed to get help from the government.”

Now, like more than 800,000 DACA recipients nationwide, Vasquez does not know what her future holds. She’s spent 20 of her 29 years living in the U.S. Though she has grandparents in Oaxaca, she has no other connections, and prospects there for her and her son are not promising, she said.

“I was born there. I was raised here — this is what I know. This is my life here. This is where my child was born. It’s scary to think: what am I going to do over there?” she said. “It’s hard. Because you look at it as, I was born in Mexico, but raised in the United States, so what do you say to that? You don’t want to make people mad by saying ‘I’m an American,’ but if you think about it, that’s what I am. This is all I know.”

Others feel the same. Wednesday, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA, citing that the decision “violated the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution by discriminating against DREAMers of Mexican origin, violated Due Process rights; and harmed North Carolinian residents, institutions and economies.”

Stein was joined by 15 other states’ attorneys general: Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

“Ending DACA isn’t just cruel to Dreamers, against our American values, and the wrong thing to do for our nation’s economy, it also violates our Constitution,” Stein stated in a press release. “I will do everything in my power to restore DACA for the tens of thousands of young people in North Carolina who rely on it — including fighting for them in court.”

On the other side, North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones believes how DACA came into existence is unconstitutional, according to a statement released upon request.

“DACA is an unconstitutional unilateral executive action, and as such, it must be terminated,” Jones said.

According to acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, the decision to end the program came because it was no more than a deferred action that does not grant its recipients a future in the U.S.

“As a result of recent litigation, we were faced with two options: wind the program down in an orderly fashion that protects beneficiaries in the near-term while working with Congress to pass legislation; or allow the judiciary to potentially shut the program down completely and immediately. The Administration chose the least disruptive option,” Duke wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Trump has given Congress six months to come up with another viable option for DACA recipients. The two current frontrunners are the Dream Act and the Recognizing America’s Children Act. The Dream Act was first introduced in Congress in 2001; its current version would give recipients the right to apply for eight years of “conditional permanent residency,” followed by five years of “legal permanent residency,” on a path toward permanent citizenship. The RAC Act is similar, but would not cover those who come from countries with Homeland Security’s Temporary Protected Status designation, which is given to eligible nationals of certain countries due to “ongoing armed conflict (such as civil war); an environmental disaster (such as earthquake or hurricane), or an epidemic; other extraordinary and temporary conditions,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

In the six months until Trump’s deadline, Vasquez said she’ll be living with uncertainty every day — she and Noah, who is an American citizen.

“I can’t imagine taking him back to Mexico. It’s beautiful over there, but he wouldn’t have the opportunity there. That’s why I’m working so hard: for him to grow up to be someone bigger than I am; someone who’s not afraid to do anything. I tell him all the time, he’s the best, he can do anything and not be afraid. Not be afraid, be someone in life,” Vazquez said. “I won’t go back to the shadows. I will fight. I know that one door will close and another will open. I stand with every youth that’s going through this, just like I have a lot of people who don’t have DACA who are standing up for me. I won’t give up. This is me. This is my country.”