NEW BRITAIN - The case of Jose Diaz isn’t as dire as others: His temporary legal status doesn’t expire until 2019, so he has almost two years to hope Congress takes action to protect “Dreamers” like himself from deportation.
Along with about 800,000 people in the country, Diaz is considered a Dreamer - a term for people who came into the country illegally when they were children. Since he came to the United States from Mexico when he was 10, Diaz has called America home.
Since 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy, known as DACA, has protected people like Diaz from deportation and allowed them to work and attend school legally in this country.
The President Barack Obama-era policy has allowed certain immigrants who came into the country illegally as minors to remain by deferring their deportation in renewable, two-year periods. Immigrants can also receive work permits through DACA.
Among other guidelines, only those who were in school, graduated high school or were veterans of the military were considered for the program. Convicted felons and those with “significant” misdemeanors were not considered.
The program was thrust into the limelight last week when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that DACA would be ending under President Donald Trump's Administration. Sessions said DACA is being rescinded, and that the Department of Homeland Security is already in the process of “winding down” the program.
The DHS will not accept new applications for DACA, but applications already being processed will be completed and honored until their two-year expiration date. Permits will not start to expire for six months.
On Twitter, Trump said that it’s up to Congress to act on some sort of replacement for DACA, and that he would revisit the issue in six months if nothing has been done.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, estimates that almost 800,000 undocumented immigrants have been approved for DACA since 2012 and more than 78,000 are waiting for approval. More than 10,000 people in Connecticut are estimated to be enrolled in DACA.
The decision to rescind DACA has left many residents in the state with uncertainty and anxiety about the legal status of themselves and their family members. Diaz, an undocumented student at Central Connecticut State University, is one of those people.
“Nothing compares to watching the announcement live as its going on, and thinking about how it’s going to affect you directly - or your family and friends,” Diaz said, remembering his feelings as he watched Sessions speak.
Diaz said that while he and his peers expected some sort of an announcement on DACA, the timetable laid out for the program’s end is concerning.
“The work permits are going to expire, then what?” asked the student, who is also a commuter senator in CCSU’s Student Government Association.
While Diaz will be enrolled in DACA until 2019, other young people he knows are not so lucky.
“I know other individuals whose work permits expire in April, so a month past the cutoff date of when they’ll stop renewing them,” Diaz told The Herald.
Diaz explained that many young people provide for their families because they have work permits through DACA.
“I know friends who are taking care of their families now,” Diaz said. “It’s mainly them who bring in the money to take care of their siblings and parents.”
Diaz said that this situation has created anxiety among the undocumented people who consider the United States home, even if they aren’t legally citizens.
“I think we were getting very used to the opportunity that we had - being able to work and provide and help - and now all of that is begin thrown to the trash and they’re not giving us an opportunity. I’m very heartbroken,” Diaz said.
Diaz isn’t giving up the fight, though. The CCSU senior spent last Tuesday in Washington with Dreamers and activists demonstrating their opposition to the Trump administration’s decision. Diaz marched with Connecticut Students for a Dream, a youth-led organization fighting for the rights of undocumented youth and their families.
“We were just there to continue to support and show that we’re in this together and we’re not losing hope,” Diaz said.
Later this week, C.H.A.N.G.E., a student activist group of which Diaz is president, will hold a rally in support of DACA in the circle outside of the CCSU Student Center. The rally will begin at 4 p.m. Thursday. In the event of rain, it will be held inside the Student Center.
From DACA to DREAM?
The ball is in Congress’s court, so to speak, on how to address immigration reform and protect those in the country through DACA. One option for action is the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors act, known as DREAM. The first version of DREAM was introduced in 2001, but every version of the bill has failed to become law.
“In 2010 we were just five votes away. We thought it was going to pass and something positive would come out of Congress and Congress let us down for five votes,” Diaz said of the DREAM act. “We were so close.”
In July, the most recent version of the DREAM Act was introduced with bipartisan support in the Senate by Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-SC, and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-IL, and in the House by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-CA, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL. Similar to past versions, the Senate’s DREAM Actoffers a path to legalization for immigrants who were brought to this country illegal as children.
The bill would allow these individuals to pursue higher education, work lawfully for at least three years, or serve in the military. The qualifications of the DREAM Act are similar to that of DACA — individuals must not have committed a felony or serious crime and must pass background checks.
Diaz said he is hopeful that Congress will protect Dreamers, but he’s also worried because of the DREAM act’s past failures.
“At the same time that I’m hopeful, I’m also scared. I’m scared because I know what it feels like to be without a work permit, without a driver’s license, and I don’t want to go back to that point. I’m also scared for brother, my family and my friends,” Diaz said.