DACAmented: A VCU story

On June 15, 2012 President Obama made an executive order to allow temporary work permits to eligible undocumented immigrants. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is available to undocumented immigrants that;

·      Were under the age of 31 by June 15, 2012

·      Came to the US before their 16th birthday

·      Have lived in the US since June 15, 2007 consecutively until the present time

·      Have been physically present in the US since June 15, 2012

·      Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012

·      Were currently in school, or graduated, or obtained a GED or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forced of the United States

·      Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three of more other misdemeanors, and don’t pose a threat to national security or public safety.

 

This means that the recipients have to be model “citizens” in order to receive DACA for two years, and is subject to renewal with a fee of $465 per application. It does not give them amnesty, or refuge, or any lawful status.

 

This is the story of a DACA student at VCU. Her name and the names of others have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

Sofia* has lived in Virginia since she was eight years old. Her family came from South America to pursue the “American Dream.” They overstayed their visa and have been undocumented immigrants ever since.

“I had no idea what was happening when we first came. I was told that we were just visiting my uncle and that we would be going to Disney World. I never understood why we were selling all our valuables or why I had to say goodbye to my friends. Just one day we were saying our goodbyes to our family members, and then we were here. And we never left.”

Sofia’s story isn’t an uncommon one for DACA recipients. Many were brought here, even as babies, and went to school here, but were not US citizens or legal permanent residents.

“I remember some of my country, mainly just little places like our old home or the park. I vaguely remember my old school. The US is my home, it’s the country that I know best,”

Although her and her family followed all the laws here, Sofia was denied many privileges due to her legal status.

“I remember I was in middle school when it finally hit me that we were ‘illegal’. It’s such a dirty word, but that’s what we were referred as. I talked to my parents that I could get my Driver’s Permit six months after my Quinceanera*, and they had to sit me down and explain to me that I wouldn’t be able to do so. That was when I knew that I would not be able to vote, and that applying to colleges would be three times as difficult.” she said.

This was the start of many “no’s” for Sofia throughout her high school years.

“I was constantly lying to my friends and adults as to why I didn’t have my license, or why I hadn’t visited my home country since we came here. It was hard keeping track of the excuses, but I had to do it to protect me and my family."

At the end of her junior year in high school is when Obama’s Executive Action came out. This was a huge turning point for her life.

“I was scrolling through Facebook when someone shared an article about the [DACA] executive action. I scrolled to the requirements and saw that I was eligible. I started crying in my bedroom because I’d been waiting for so long for some hope.”

However, DACA still doesn’t mean she has legal status in the US. When applying to VCU, she was denied in-state tuition and wasn’t eligible for FAFSA.

“DACA is great because I was able to get a job and a license, which really helped out my family and I. However all I’ve wanted to do was go to a university. I was denied in-state tuition for both VCU and community college. I didn’t want to fall back so I took classes part time at the community college at the out-of-state price, even though I met the residency length requirements. My parents worked two jobs, and even that wasn’t enough to cover tuition. It felt awful.”

Things changed in April 2014, when Virginia allowed for DACA recipients to get in-state tuition at all public universities.

“It feels great finally being at VCU, though it comes at a really heavy price. I’m still not eligible for FAFSA so my parents and I are paying all of it out of pocket, plus rent. I had to apply as an international student, which made it even more competitive for me to get in again.”

DACA also doesn’t allow the recipient to vote in elections.

“I really wish I could vote. I’m very interested in politics and have made up my mind on the candidate that I would vote for. I just hope that the next president moves forward with immigration reform. I want my parents to have something similar to DACA. They’ve never broken the law and deserve a better job than what they have now. They’re so much smarter than their job allows them to do. I wish all people could see that they're good people that just wanted a better life for their children. But now I just have to do the best that I can do with what I’m given, and keep making them proud. That’s all most of us can do.” 

 

*Quinceanera - Traditional 15th birthday celebration similar to that of a Sweet 16