DACA youth worry immigration deal for them will unleash fear for others

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Young adults waiting to hear whether
lawmakers will grant them the opportunity to stay in the country legally said
they don’t want Congress to offer an immigration deal that will help them but in
turn produce fear and mass deportation among their parents and neighbors who
are in the country illegally.

“What good is it for me to have a pathway to citizenship if
I can’t have my parents, my friends, my loved ones ‘ not with me? For us,
family is the core of everything. I can’t imagine being in the U.S. without
them,” said Laura Peniche, of Colorado, who benefited from the Deferred Action
for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which in 2012 began offering temporary reprieve
from deportation and some legal documentation to youth brought to the country illegally
as children, as long as they met certain criteria.

Some 800,000 benefited from the program created by executive
order by then-U.S. President Barack Obama, a policy rescinded in September by President Donald
Trump, who then asked lawmakers to find a permanent solution before the program ends March 5.

Peniche and other DACA recipients from around the county took
part in a Jan. 25 telephone briefing sponsored by the PICO National Network, a
coalition of faith-based groups.

They spoke of their fears, of frustration with
lawmakers, of their peers’ trauma and depression, and the uncertainty of what they’ll
do if Congress fails to pass any legislation to offer them relief when the
program expires. But their biggest worry is over what lawmakers will come up
with, who will be sacrificed, they say, as Republicans and Democrats bargain.

The Trump administration proposed Jan. 25 a path to
citizenship for an estimated 1.8 million young immigrants who entered the country without legal permission. In
turn, the administration asked for $25 billion for border security and immigration enforcement, an
end to the diversity or lottery visa program, and severely curtailing family visas.

Some DACA recipients expressed concerns that they were being
used as pawns and, in effect, are being asked to choose between citizenship and
being responsible for heavy militarization of the border, as well as the safety
of their parents, extended family and neighbors who will be at greater risk of
being removed from the country if more immigration agents are deployed.

“Nobody should be given that option,” said Carlos Corral, a
DACA recipient from New Mexico, who said abundant immigration checkpoints in his
region make him worry that the most average of errands could separate him from
his mother, who is not in the country legally.

“I’m in constant fear that Mom will one day decide to go
shopping to the grocery store and run into one of those checkpoints and that’ll
be it. I’ll lose her, just like that,” Corral said. “It does happen and it’s
our reality ‘ that’s not a way of life. I feel like we’re in a cage.”

The building of a bigger wall along the border with Mexico and the
further militarization of the border will affect the way family, friends and communities
live, he said. For the young adults to be used as bargaining chips in a deal
that would make the lives of others even more difficult is abhorrent, he said.  

“We shouldn’t be pushed to choose freedom over family
because it’s immoral. Nothing is more valuable than our family,” Corral said.

Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration
policy at the Center for Migration Studies in New York, said the White House
proposal goes against Catholic values because it harms the family and goes
against church teaching that calls on Christians to welcome the stranger.

“The White House proposal decimates the family
immigration system and removes protections from asylum-seekers and
unaccompanied children, among other harsh provisions,” Appleby told Catholic
News Service. “The bishops and the Catholic community should be alarmed with
the proposal, as it undermines core Catholic values of family unity and the
protection of persons from persecution.”

There already is much damage done, said Peniche, and she
sees the toll stress has taken in other DACA recipients dealing with depression
over the uncertainty, but also in family members uncertain about a future with
their family in the U.S.

“I was having a hard time being a lifeline for my mom when
she kept talking about feeling less valuable than everybody else, and seeing
how she lost hope for this country, for life in general, due to the system
that’s surrounding us,” she said. “We’ve been suffering in silence for too long
and that’s killing our community.”

Some expressed disappointment with Democrats in Congress and
the message they sent out during budget negotiations with Republicans that led
to a brief government shutdown in January, which was in part spurred by
immigration dealings.

Others called on supporters to avoid patronizing companies
and businesses that support mass deportation or anti-immigrant policies. They also said there should only be one thing that’s up for negotiation — and it’s not the
welfare of families and friends. It’s the taxes the government has collected
over the years from immigrants in the country illegally and for which these immigrants have never claimed in tax refunds. The country can keep that and in exchange allow them to live in peace, they said.

DACA recipient Lorena Lara, an organizer with the grass-roots
organization Faith in the Valley in California, said family should not be
negotiated under any circumstance and that there should be no negotiation with a system
that seeks to separate human beings from their loved ones.

“We need to fight to change that system,” she said.

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