BUZZ: Dreams Deferred

By on September 13, 2017

Freddy Hernandez (right) leads a crowd of Dreamers and allies to the Town Square Saturday morning.

Teton County DREAMers risk it all to march for recognition

JACKSON HOLE, WY — Maggie Ordonez’s parents immigrated to the United States “the right way” when she was six years old. Her father moved to Jackson on a work visa, and secured one for her mother shortly thereafter.

But they had neither the resources nor the knowledge to secure a visa for Ordonez or her siblings. Their options were to bring them into the US without documentation —or leave them behind. They chose the former. So until May 2013, Ordonez was considered to be undocumented.

“I didn’t know I was illegal until high school,” Ordonez said. Her status in the country only became clear when she suddenly couldn’t do things her friends could—like get a driver’s license.

Ordonez’s story is increasingly familiar these days. She is a Dreamer: One of approximately 800,000 US residents protected from deportation by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The Obama-era policy was established in 2012 to offer protection and temporary residency to people brought to the US as young children without documentation.

On September 5, the White House announced the unexpected: It would rescind DACA for those 800,000 young people like Ordonez.

Wyoming was quick to respond.

“[DACA recipients] are part of a community, and Wyoming is home for many of them,” said Sabrina King, policy director for ACLU Wyoming.

“Everyone here is an integral part of the community. To put DACA recipients at risk is not a great way of having successful rural communities.”

King estimates that Wyoming houses 600 to 700 DACA recipients—Wyoming Public Media reported 621. Jackson attorney Rose Reed doesn’t know exactly how many live in Teton County, but has worked with approximately 20 DACA applicants and recipients at Trefonas Law LLC.

Reed remembers participating in DACA clinics when the program was first announced, helping people fill out applications.

“We had pretty full rooms every night,” Reed said. “We have a fair amount [of Dreamers] here in Teton County.”

In Jackson, 40 people gathered at D.O.G to march through the square during Old Bill’s Fun Run. Organizer Rosa Sanchez asked the crowd to “raise your hand if [they’re] a Dreamer!”

Approximately 10 people raised their hands, with Sanchez and Ordonez among them. They were there, Sanchez said, to make themselves visible, as Dreamers and as active, contributing members of the community.

Marchers taped “X’s” over their mouths to symbolize the silence they feel they had been forced back into.

“I do feel like our voice was taken away from us,” Sanchez said.

Sure enough, all 40 Dreamers and allies walked from their home base at D.O.G, down Broadway, through the Town Square, and back, in silence. In silent protest they were to be seen, but not heard.

Still, one of the participants, Brian Dominguez, wanted to be heard. He was marching for his family, many of whom are Dreamers, he said. Dominguez said he understood the symbolism behind the tape, but wanted an avenue to express his frustration.

“I’m angry. I want to yell,” Dominguez said. “Let’s express that anger rather than keeping us silent like we’ve always been.”

Dreams Defined

DACA marchers taped their mouths to symbolize voices they feel were taken away from them.

The White House announcement, delivered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, didn’t necessarily surprise Reed. Despite prior promises from President Donald Trump that Dreamers had “nothing to worry about,” Reed had a “strong sense” that the current administration would rescind DACA.

“It didn’t stop me from crying when I watched the press conference,” Reed said. “I think it’s one of the more cruel things I’ve ever seen a president do.”

In the press conference, Sessions condemned “executive amnesty” to “illegal aliens” who were now taking jobs away from Americans and reaping benefits—“including participation in the social security program”—that they hadn’t worked for.

But such an over-reaching program is not the one Reed knows. The Dreamers she works with in Jackson are government employees, teachers, and bankers. One has just been working his way through community college, and just got his grades where they need to be to start at University of Wyoming, Reed said.

And none of them are eligible for social security even with DACA, despite popular belief, and despite paying income taxes.

“It’s affecting a really wide array of really promising and productive people,” Reed said.

Reed rejects the notion that DACA is some sort of blanket amnesty. On the contrary, its requirements are many, and are equally as strict.

First, an applicant has to prove that they had been in the US at least five years prior to the original 2012 announcement—so, since June 15 2007. At this point, Reed said, under those guidelines, an initial applicant would have doubled that, and would have lived in the US for at least 10 years.

Providing proof of residency is no easy task, “especially when your family’s undocumented and you’re trying to stay under the radar,” Reed said.

In addition to initial proof of residency, applicants also have to prove that they have had “no significant departures” from the states since entering. They have to prove that they entered the United States before the age of 16.

They also cannot have a significant criminal record—a minor traffic violation is forgivable, Reed said, but even still, that decision is a discretionary one. They must prove they are in school, or have graduated.

Applicants must be older than 15, but younger than 31. If they can provide proof of all of those things, Reed said, they’ll give their fingerprints and undergo an extensive, multi-level background check. They pay a $495 non-waivable for every application, and renewal (DACA recipients must re-apply every two years).

Looking forward

Here’s the catch 22 about a DACA repeal, Reed says: The 800,000 people currently protected under DACA likely won’t actually go anywhere. They’ll just effectively go back into hiding.

She’s been telling her DACA clients “that they will be undocumented with no protection from deportation the day after their [DACA] expiration date.”

The day after the White House announcement, Trump tweeted that DACA recipients “have nothing to worry about” for the next six months while Congress figures out what, exactly, a DACA repeal will look like.

“No action,” the tweet read.

And United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, USCIS, has a policy of not proactively disclosing DACA applicant information to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Reed says.

“It doesn’t appear that there is a super elevated risk of ICE coming to knock on your door.”

Then again, Reed said, “it’s increasingly feeling like anything is possible under this administration.”

Still, Reed reminds her clients that rescinding DACA does not invalidate their current status, nor does it invalidate their future employment.

“Your immigration status is the same today as yesterday,” Reed said.

And some DACA recipients have time to renew their applications.

“Anyone whose DACA expires in six months is OK,” King said. The USCIS is only adjudicating DACA renewal requests received by October 5.

For those who don’t have that chance, the best they can do is “move forward and hope for the best,” said Freddy Hernandez, another Teton County Dreamer.

Reed is looking into alternatives for all her clients whose DACA grant expires after March 5.

“I’m going through cases individually to make sure they don’t qualify for some legal status via more conventional means,” Reed said. What she means by that is an employer sponsor or family member who may be a route to legal residency in the U.S., and most of them don’t have that.

King reminds DACA recipients that while there are actions they can take, like applying for renewal, they should not forget to take care of themselves.

“It’s also really important to take care of their own mental health, and know that that’s OK,” King said. “Reach out to social workers, counselors, we can help them find sources. We’re not going to talk to immigration.”

King also wants to hear more from state leaders. Right now, DACA’s future is in Congress’s hands—they have six months to figure out exactly what to do with the White House announcement. But the pressure needs to come from every level of leadership, King said.

“I think our governor needs to speak up and support DACA recipients. Our legislators should step up to the plate,” King said. “Let folks who are here know they’re not alone.”

“I know there are DACA students going to University of Wyoming,” King continued. “Are they supporting them?”

In fact, the University of Wyoming did issue a response to the White House decision on September 7.

University President Laurie Nichols said in a statement that the school is monitoring the situation, and that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, FERPA, will remain in place.  UW will not release student records without written consent from the student, a subpoena, a warrant or a judicial order.

“We have a strong history of welcoming students, scholars, faculty and staff from around the world and have many working and learning on our campus today,” Nichols said in a campus-wide email. “I am honored to belong to a university community devoted to the higher education of all students.”

Nationally, 16 states have filed lawsuits against Trump to block his repeal of DACA, arguing that the decision went back on former promises to protect immigrants who had registered with the government.

California, which houses an estimated 200,000 DACA recipients, joined the fight on Monday.  

Congress also has five pieces of immigration-related legislation in front of them. The biggest hope for DACA recipients is a now 16-year old bill called the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which would grant permanent legal status to dreamers brought into the country as children who meet certain requirements. The bill was originally introduced in 2001, but so far, none of its iterations have made it through Congress.

DACA was born, in part, as a temporary solution and absence of legislation.

“I’m really hoping that the DREAM Act will be passed, or something similar to it, in the next six months,” Reed said.

King calls the DREAM Act a “very simple fix.”  While the Wyoming delegation has not historically been very supportive of any legislation that might look like amnesty, she hopes that with enough pressure, they well “step up and support it.”

Marchers walked through the Town Square to make themselves visible during Old Bill’s Fun Run

Blame game

Much of the rhetoric in support of DACA centers around innocence—children brought to the US as young children, the argument goes, should not be punished for their parents’ crimes. They cannot be blamed for a choice in which they had no agency.

But dreamer Blanca Aburto is wary of any language that places undue blame on parents.

We in no way blame our parents for this,” Aburto said. “You do anything you can for your child to give them a better life”

Aburto says her parents brought her to the US when she was three years old to escape violence and poverty in Mexico. “My parents decided they didn’t want me growing up in that,” she said. They immigrated so that she could “give the world what I’m capable of.”

Kasey Elizondo shared a similar story.

“We came here because of the high crime, drug cartel and everything,” Elizondo said. “It’s not a great place for kids to grow up in… I come from a rough neighborhood, we barely got out in time.”

And who can fault someone for wanting a better life for their kids, Aburto says. She understands this intimately now—she has a kid of her own.

Blanca Aburto and Rosa Sanchez prepare for the march Saturday. Marchers wore white in unity and solidarity.

As a parent, she’s “do it all again” for her child if she had to.

“We’re here thanking our parents for bringing us here,” Aburto said.

Hernandez echoes Aburto’s gratitude. His parents immigrated, he said, to give him a better future.

“Some dreams are really hard to get to,” Hernandez said. “I was brought here to have a better future, make my dreams come true.”

Now, his goal is to repay his parents for the life they gave him.

“I feel destroyed,” he said.

Still, he wants to keep fighting, “for my future and for my parents’ futures so I can help whatever way I can. “

Aburto tears up thinking about her parents, and the life they allowed her to live.  

“It’s very emotional for me.”

During the march, she was brought to tears by a woman who approached her and said, “you can’t speak for yourself, but I will speak for you.”

Ordonez is a parent now, too. She works as a banker, and volunteers where she can in the community. Her goal now is to provide for her kids, as her parents did for her. She hopes they will grow to love Jackson as much as she has.

“I want them to grow up here, and experience the community like I did.”  PJH

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