Bor­der ‘DREAM­ERS’

Caught in mid­dle of im­mi­gra­tion de­bate

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Rick Jervis

SAN JUAN, Texas – Abra­ham Diaz would like noth­ing more than to see pro­tec­tion from de­por­ta­tion for un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants such as him­self who were brought to the USA at a young age.

He also de­plores the idea of a bor­der wall slic­ing through his com­mu­nity and fears for his par­ents, also un­doc­u­mented and liv­ing in this small bor­der city.

“It’s tough,” said Diaz, 24, who came to San Juan with his par­ents and two sib­lings from Mon­ter­rey, Mex­ico, when he was 8 years old. “I want to say yes to get­ting more pro­tec­tion. But I can’t. A wall would ruin this com­mu­nity.”

Diaz and thou­sands of other un­doc­u­mented young peo­ple liv­ing on the bor­der are stuck in the un­com­fort­able mid­dle of a heated na­tional im­mi­gra­tion de­bate. As “DREAM­ERS,” or chil­dren brought to the USA il­le­gally by their par­ents, they would like a clear path to cit­i­zen­ship or bet­ter pro­tec­tion from de­por­ta­tion.

Pres­i­dent Trump re­vealed an im­mi­gra­tion plan that of­fers a path to cit­i­zen­ship for DREAM­ers but only if Congress agrees to con­trib­ute $25 bil­lion for a bor­der wall, which would be erected near Diaz’s home.

“Even if there’s a deal, we don’t want a wall,” he said.

Last month, the gov­ern­ment briefly shut down when Se­nate Democrats voted against a short-term spend­ing bill be­cause it didn’t in­clude pro­tec­tion for DREAM­ers. About one in five of the 3.6 mil­lion DREAM­ers in the USA live along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mex­i­can bor­der, ac­cord­ing to the South­ern Bor­der Com­mu­ni­ties Coali­tion.

Trump’s plan would end the di­ver­sity visa lot­tery and dras­ti­cally nar­row fam­ily-based im­mi­gra­tion. The pres­i­dent has given Congress un­til March 5 to come up with a so­lu­tion.

Last week, White House chief of staff John Kelly said im­mi­grants who hadn’t ap­plied for pro­tec­tion un­der the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals (DACA) pol­icy were “too afraid” or “too lazy.” He said Trump would not re­new the March 5 dead­line.

That dead­line and the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate in gen­eral have stirred anx­i­ety in this stretch of the Rio Grande Val­ley, said John-Michael Tor­res of La Unión del Pue­blo En­tero, or LUPE, an im­mi­grant rights group. In Trump’s first year, the area around San Juan has seen an in­crease in Bor­der Pa­trol ac­tiv­ity and de­por­ta­tions, as well as more ral­lies by groups de­nounc­ing the prospect of a wall, Tor­res said.

Though many here would like to see a path to cit­i­zen­ship or more pro­tec­tion from de­por­ta­tion, the thought of a wall is un­palat­able, Tor­res said. The money would be bet­ter spent on things the bor­der re­ally needs, such as bet­ter roads and schools or a vet­er­ans hos­pi­tal, he said. “Twenty-five bil­lion dol­lars for a bor­der wall would be a slap in the face to the real needs of the bor­der,” he said.

Any im­mi­gra­tion deal would need a strong en­force­ment el­e­ment at­tached to it, just as it would re­quire some form of amnesty for DREAM­ers, said Jes­sica Vaughan, di­rec­tor of pol­icy stud­ies for the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies, a Wash­ing­ton-based group that fa­vors stricter bor­der en­force­ment. Sep­a­rat­ing the two isn’t vi­able, she said.

“There’s a logic to it and also a po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity,” Vaughn said. “It’s not

“Twenty-five bil­lion dol­lars for a bor­der wall would be a slap in the face to the real needs of the bor­der.”

ideal, but if any­thing is go­ing to get done, this seems like the best chance for it.”

Ta­nia Chavez, 32, was sent to live in the USA from Reynosa, Mex­ico, with her brother when she was 14. She grad­u­ated from McAllen High School and ob­tained a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in busi­ness and two mas­ter’s de­grees from the Univer­sity of Texas-Rio Grande Val­ley. Still un­doc­u­mented, she can’t travel past the nearby check­points in Fal­fur­rias.

Though she would cher­ish in­creased pro­tec­tion from de­por­ta­tion, she ve­he­mently op­poses a wall. “Our lives are not a bar­gain­ing chip,” said Chavez, a con­tract fundraiser. “It’s im­por­tant to rec­og­nize the con­tri­bu­tions we have made to this coun­try.”

Over Gar­cia, 20, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence stu­dent and cam­paign man­ager who lives in Brownsville, said he fa­vors strong en­force­ment at the bor­der but doesn’t be­lieve a DACA ex­ten­sion is enough.

Gar­cia was brought to the USA from Tampico, Mex­ico, when he was 1. He said mem­bers of Congress and the White House need to pass a vi­able plan for DREAM­ers.

“We’re Amer­i­cans by heart, just not on pa­per,” Gar­cia said.

Abra­ham Diaz, 24, an un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grant, says a bor­der wall would ruin the com­mu­nity of San Juan, Texas. COURT­NEY SACCO/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

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