Rescinding DACA will affect nearly 6,900 Oklahoma recipients
Paul Gonzalez and Jennifer Cortes Gray
On September 5, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Obama-era program, Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), would be rescinded as early as March 6, 2018. The program granted temporary protection to people brought to the United States as children, allowing them to legally work, go to college, and buy a home. The fate of these nearly 800,000 “DACAmented Americans” (often referred to as Dreamers), now rests in the hands of Congress, which has been given six months to come up with an alternative solution.
Many Dreamers wonder if they will be forced back into the shadows, or if their information will be given to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and they will be deported.
There are nearly 6,900 DACA recipients in Oklahoma. Paul Gonzalez is one of them. He came to the United States from Mexico when he was seven and became a DACA recipient in 2013.
“It has helped me get a job and helped me with school, but mostly with the fear of getting deported and not feeling comfortable in a country I feel a part of,” Gonzalez said. “It made me feel like I belonged.”
Jenifer Cortes Gray is studying counseling at Northeastern State. She’s not a DACA recipient, but was once undocumented and has been in the United States since she was four years old. Jennifer has family and friends who are beneficiaries of DACA.
“My best friend was able to buy her first house and get a car [because of DACA],” Gray said. “To see how much she’s done with her work permit and to think that, six months from now, that could all be gone—in the scheme of things, that’s small compared to the fact that her two daughters are citizens and to think that she goes back to living in fear and the uncertainty of what’s going to happen to her and her kids.”
What happens in the coming months will not only impact the lives of DACA recipients, but also their spouses, extended families, and nearly 200,000 children (who are themselves U.S. citizens) of DACA recipients. Some families, fearing deportation and separation from their children, are considering signing over parental rights to friends or documented family members.
“When I was in high school, we went to a lawyer’s office to see what could be done. There was a family there signing their rights away to another family in case they were deported,” Gray said.
Mimi Martinez, an engineering student at TCC and five-year DACA recipient, expressed her frustration with the hateful rhetoric she sees online and within her community.
“You read the comments that people post, like, ‘Deport them all, they shouldn’t be here to begin with, deport the whole family.’ It’s very hurtful and our youth [are] exposed to that … They don’t know what to think, they don’t feel safe,” she said. “We knew that DACA was going to be temporary, but we had hope that whoever took office next was going to keep it or [do] something better.”
“There [are] kids who are ready to go into the workforce, they’re excited because they have a Social Security number and are going to be able to contribute and help out their families and they won’t be able to,” Martinez continued. “Not only that but [the law] lured people out of the shadows and now they have the spotlight on them. It’s very scary because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Tulsan Kasey Hughart is an immigrant rights activist and co-founder of Dream Act Oklahoma (DAOK), an affiliate of the United We Dream national advocacy network. Founded in 2008, DAOK is the first youth-led immigrant rights coalition in Oklahoma. The organization aims to educate, empower, and advocate for the immigrant community in Oklahoma. In addition to promoting national campaigns, DAOK advocates at the local level.
“Whenever anti-immigration legislation [is] being proposed in Oklahoma,” said Hughart, “we show up with other organizations from our community—like the repeal of in-state tuition, English-only laws, even local city ordinances that tried to heavily regulate food trucks in East Tulsa.”
“I don’t think people realize the impressive history behind the mere existence of food trucks in Tulsa,” she said with a laugh.
Dreamers whose work permits expire before March 5, 2018 can apply for a two-year renewal, but must do so before October 5, giving applicants only one month to come up with $495 in application fees. To help DACA recipients through the process, DAOK and other community allies have set up DACA clinics at the Greater Tulsa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (14201 E. 21st St.) where immigration attorneys review renewals. DAOK is also raising money to help fund DACA renewals and has an anonymous donor pledged to match what they raise.
I asked the Dreamers I spoke with what kind of community support they need. All of them emphasized the importance of calling legislators.
“People don’t know the power of their voice,” Gray said. “Contacting legislators is going to be the most important thing.”