The legal status of approximately 700,000 Dreamers in the United States lies in limbo.On Nov. 12, the U.S. Supreme Court held a hearing to hear the case brought against Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) by the Trump administration. The challenge against DACA is based on the claim that President Obama did not have the authority to create such a program.
Halfway across the country, students at Goshen College gathered to show solidarity for “Dreamers.” Latino Student Union (LSU) and the Elkhart County Hope Network sponsored the event in the Union Commons, where over 70 people, young and old, assembled despite the unpleasant weather. They formed a semi-circle around Richard Aguirre, Goshen College’s director of community engagement and faculty sponsor for LSU, and listened as he gave opening remarks.
DACA was introduced on June 15, 2012, after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act twice in both 2007 and 2011.
To be eligible for DACA, applicants must be younger than 30, prove that they arrived in the U.S. before they were 16, have lived in the U.S. for the previous five years, are a high school graduate or veteran, and haven’t committed any serious crimes. The status lasts two years and is renewable, however there is no path to citizenship under DACA.
DACA has increased the wages and employment status of “Dreamers” and has improved the mental health of participants and their children. DACA has also reduced the number of undocumented immigrant households living in poverty.
Despite these outcomes, in the fall of 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that President Trump was ending deportation protection for “Dreamers.”
In Indiana there are 91,000 “Dreamers,” and 12,000 in Elkhart County. Aguirre does not have numbers for the number of students with DACA at Goshen College, for privacy reasons.
The insecure status of DACA has had psychological and educational effects on college students. According to a study published in “Race and Social Problems,” 70.9% of DACA recipients strongly agreed that “they worry about the future of the program,” and they have reported higher rates of extreme stress and anxiety compared to their documented peers.
Adriana Martinez Diaz de Leon, sophomore, spoke about the lack of sense of belonging that “Dreamers” face everyday.
“There were times when I cried, thinking that college was not an option for me,” she said. “That whatever I did decide to do was not going to be possible. We are in a gray area. We are not accepted here, and we are not accepted there.”
If DACA is ruled unconstitutional, “Dreamers” will lose many of the protections and benefits they currently have. In 38 of the 50 states, including Indiana, they will lose the right to have a driver’s license.
Higher Education will be less accessible and professional and occupational licenses will be harder to obtain.
Holding back tears, Martinez Diaz de Leon said, “I know DACA students who rely so much on being able to drive and on being able to work, because they wouldn’t be able to pay for their studies, they wouldn’t be able to help their families drive around. What will happen to them when they don’t have that?”
Local politicians came to the gathering to show their support. Julia King, at-large councilwoman, described the challenge to DACA as “villainous,” saying that although local politicians don’t have power to change national immigration policy, “We have the power to make an inclusive community.”
Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutzman and Bryan Mierau, executive director of the Center for Healing and Hope, both affirmed this sentiment.
Near the end of the event, there was a time for audience members to volunteer words of solidarity and support.
Rocio Diaz, director of community engagement and adult outreach, spoke about the public perception of “Dreamers,” and challenged those in attendance to listen closely to immigrants.
“Sometimes, people think that we are portraying ourselves as victims, but no, we are human beings, we have stories, and we are here for a reason,” she said.
Aguirre urged allies to support “Dreamers” during this time of uncertainty in a variety of ways, including being friendly and welcoming, staying informed and getting involved with local politics or local pro-immigrant organizations.
The Supreme Court is currently dominated by conservatives, which suggests that the verdict may favor the Trump administration. The Supreme Court will likely not release their decision until June of 2020.