In 2012, the Obama administration introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, protecting all eligible immigrants who came to the U.S. as children from deportation.
“DACA gave me hope,” program recipient Eddie Ramirez told ABC News. “And the biggest thing [DACA] gave me was a Social Security number with employment authorization, which allowed me to work to make money to pay for my schooling.”
Ramirez was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and arrived in the U.S in 1994 at just 1 and a half years old. Ten years ago, in 2012, he received DACA status, ultimately enabling him to pursue his aspirations of becoming a dentist.
DACA students such as Ramirez are ineligible for federal aid, certain scholarships and internships. Limitations placed on DACA recipients drive various corporations and institutions to deny qualified individuals educational and employment opportunities due to their status.
“Not all institutions are friendly toward DACA,” Ramirez said.
During his last year of dental school, the 2017 rescission of DACA went into effect, threatening Ramirez’s citizenship status.
“It was this anxiety of am I going to be able to be a dentist,” Ramirez said. “Am I going to be able to continue practicing dentistry, everything that I went to school for?”
Ramirez is now a practicing dentist in Hillsboro, Oregon, but the future of his reality, and the life he built for himself, hangs in the balance as legislators delay policy reform that impacts his stability.
DACA has promised security to over 835,000 recipients, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Over the past 10 years, DACA has faced many legislative challenges. Congress’ latest response to the demands of DACA recipients was U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen’s ruling last July outlawing the DACA program and closing the door on all new applicants. The Department of Justice’s appeal to that decision now makes its way to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, immigration reform is stalled in the Senate.
Hundreds of DACA recipients and supporters rallied at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, calling on Congress to guarantee equal opportunity under DACA and the creation of a substantial pathway to citizenship. Though their backgrounds and languages vary, from Union Station to the Capitol, they walked together chanting the same message: “Sin papeles, Sin miedo” (without papers, without fear) and “Undocumented unafraid.”
Dressed in her traditional African skirt and hair tie, Rugie Kamara Floyd, who is from Sierra Leone, West Africa, said she came to Wednesday’s rally in support of all DACA recipients but more importantly, her nephew who was detained by ICE.
Floyd says her nephew was held for “two years for a crime he did not commit,” and he is awaiting deportation.
“I’m here to support the movement because this movement is fighting for a pathway to citizenship for all immigrants,” she said.
“My nephew is incarcerated … two years for a crime he did not commit, now he is in detention by ICE awaiting deportation,” she said. “Stop deportation and keep families united.”
Ingrid Vaca, 59, from Bolivia, the mother of two dreamers, said she is waiting for laws to change for not only her family but also all families affected by DACA.
“I have two children who are dreamers. I am marching and fighting for the government to change this situation,” she told ABC News.
“Our children are locked up in cages where they can’t be with their families, nor can they go to their countries,” she said, holding a “Sí se puede” (yes we can) sign. “DACA has been around for 10 years, but today is not an anniversary, it’s something that is marking our lives.”
One of those recipients is Greisa Martinez Rosas, executive director of immigrants’ rights advocacy organization United We Dream.
“What we’re seeking is permanent protection for us to be able to live without fear in our homes,” Rosas told ABC News. “To be able to drive to work without the fear of being separated from our families and be able to make plans for the future.”
Rosas met with Vice President Kamala Harris in January to stress the demands for permanent protection. She says that while “we felt heard and understood,” no action was taken to fortify a certain future for recipients.
Thousands of qualified students are vulnerable to deportation. Caught in the crossfire of the remnants of the previous administration, which Rosas described as “vehemently anti-immigrant,” and the current administration’s efforts, the realities of undocumented people remain in limbo.
Although DACA does not provide a pathway to citizenship, the last line of defense in the fight for protection is the anticipated American Dream and Promise Act. If signed into law, the bill is set to provide an official pathway to citizenship by granting permanent resident status for 10 years to qualifying undocumented immigrants.