Young mi­grants in limbo, await Trump’s move

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

The mother of Juana and Ines Ale­jan­dro took a deep breath, put on a brave face and handed her tod­dlers over to strangers at the Mexican bor­der to be smug­gled into the United States. That was 17 years ago. For the mother, go­ing back to the poverty of her vil­lage in Oax­aca in Mex­ico was out of the ques­tion. Smug­glers helped her cross the bor­der her­self a few days later. She col­lected her daugh­ters in Ari­zona and trav­eled to New York to re­unite with her hus­band, whom she had not seen in two years.

To­day, those daugh­ters are 19 and 20 years old, study at a com­mu­nity col­lege in New York and are scared to death that they might be de­ported af­ter Don­ald Trump takes power next month. “Be­ing de­ported is some­thing that does keep me awake at night,” Ines says. “How are we go­ing to do it back home? It would mean start­ing all over again.”

In never-never land

The Ale­jan­dro fam­ily has lived in fear of be­ing found out for years. That has meant go­ing to the doc­tor only in emer­gen­cies, skip­ping school field trips and never re­turn­ing to Mex­ico. Juana and Ines have three sib­lings who were born in Amer­ica and are there­fore US cit­i­zens. But the older daugh­ters and their par­ents re­main in the coun­try il­le­gally. The mother cooks Mexican food that an aunt sells out­side a train sta­tion. The fa­ther helps, and washes dishes at a restau­rant or works con­struc­tion. They de­clined to be named for this story.

But Juana and Ines’s luck changed in 2013 when the United States started im­ple­ment­ing a pro­gram to give young peo­ple like them re­new­able two-year res­i­dence and work per­mits. It is called DACA, or De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals, for peo­ple who were brought to the United States as chil­dren and do not have pa­pers. The idea is that they should not be pun­ished with de­por­ta­tion for some­thing in which they had no say. “DACA has opened a lot of doors for me. I feel more se­cure about say­ing I am un­doc­u­mented,” says Juana, who stud­ies busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion. “It has re­moved many wor­ries.”

Dur­ing his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Trump in­sulted Mex­i­cans by say­ing some Mexican im­mi­grants were rapists and drug deal­ers. He also pledged to end the DACA pro­gram im­me­di­ately. But he has changed his tune since then. “They got brought here at a very young age. They’ve worked here. They’ve gone to school here. Some were good stu­dents. Some have won­der­ful jobs,” Trump told Time mag­a­zine af­ter his elec­tion. “And they’re in never-never land be­cause they don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen. “We’re go­ing to work some­thing out that’s go­ing to make peo­ple happy and proud,” he added with­out pro­vid­ing de­tails.

A group of Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can sen­a­tors this month pre­sented a bill that would pro­tect such young peo­ple from de­por­ta­tion for three years and al­low them to work if Trump scraps the DACA pro­gram.

A cher­ished dream

An es­ti­mated 1.8 mil­lion young peo­ple in the United States face the same dilemma as Juana and Ines. Brought into the coun­try by their par­ents il­le­gally as chil­dren, they grew up here, speak per­fect English and went to ele­men­tary school here. Some 65,000 grad­u­ate from high school each year. Most want to go on to univer­sity, but only five to 10 per­cent can af­ford it. Some 741,000 have ap­plied for pro­tec­tion un­der DACA.

They have been liv­ing in le­gal limbo for years, wait­ing for a mir­a­cle. It even has a name: A bill called the “Dream Act”, which would grant such peo­ple per­ma­nent res­i­dency and a work per­mit. How­ever, the bill has been lan­guish­ing in Congress for 15 years. Young peo­ple like the Ale­jan­dro daugh­ters are called “dream­ers”. “Most of the peo­ple like my par­ents pay their taxes and give as much as they can back to this coun­try,” Ines says. “I am here just for my ed­u­ca­tion. The US is full of op­por­tu­ni­ties I wouldn’t have in Mex­ico.”“My par­ents do work a lot,” Juana adds. “They barely sleep at night just to help us pay tu­ition, and we have to work as well.”

If DACA ends, how­ever, it will be hard for the two girls to stay in school even if they are not de­ported, she says. Still, de­spite the fear and un­cer­tainty, the two sis­ters have stepped for­ward and made their sta­tus known, and are help­ing other un­doc­u­mented stu­dents like them. They formed a “Dream Team” at Hos­tos Com­mu­nity Col­lege where they study - a group the school sup­ports. “I’d tell the pres­i­dent-elect,” Ines says, “that we are not all hor­ri­ble peo­ple.” —AFP

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