Caught in middle of immigration debate
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