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DACA recipients, families & advocates will push for permanent immigration status

Local and national immigrant rights groups made a promise to mark the 9th anniversary of the federal program benefiting thousands of immigrants who arrived in the country as children: Those young people who benefit from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals won’t be celebrating the program’s 10th anniversary.

“I don’t want to be here celebrating 10 years. We are going to be here celebrating that we achieved something permanent,” said Adonias Arevalo, director of Poder Latinx, a group that advocates for immigration, climate, and economic reforms.

Poder Latinx, the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, Corazon, Mi Familia Vota, AZ Jews for Justice, United Farm Workers and Poder in Action gathered to remember the nearly two decades that advocates have pushed for meaningful immigration reform and to mobilize support for two congressional proposals.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would reform the current agricultural guestworker program and create a path to citizenship for undocumented farmworkers, and the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 would provide a route to naturalized citizenship for the more than 700,000 residents shielded from deportation by DACA. The bill also includes access to legally protected statuses for millions more immigrants, including those with Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, designations.

The American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 could benefit up to 4.4 million people eligible for permanent status, according to an estimate from the Migration Policy Institute.

Both proposals have passed the U.S. House of Representatives, where Democrats have a solid majority of seats. But their fate in the Senate is unclear; Democrats hold a nominal majority in the chamber, but must win 10 Republican votes to overcome the filibuster. Arevalo told those gathered at the state Capitol Tuesday to let Arizona Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema know that these bills are a priority.

At the rally, some held signs that read, “Protect all 11 million” and “Farmworker Legalization Now!” while others gathered in the sweltering heat around a large piñata shaped like a 9.

“Today in 2021, under this heat is nothing for the years that we have been fighting,” said Jerssay Arredondo of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition. “It’s been 20 years of fighting for something, for a solution, and 9 years ago the immigrant movement got it with DACA, but it didn’t start there.”

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DACA was announced on June 15, 2012 by President Barack Obama. It was an executive order that allowed certain immigrants under the age of 30 who arrived in the U.S. as children before June 15, 2007 and who have no criminal record to obtain a work permit and protection from deportation. The benefit is valid for two years, and applicants must pay $495.

Nationally, there are more than 636,000 people who benefit from DACA, according to the latest figures from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that adjudicates immigration benefits.  

In Arizona, there are nearly 24,000 residents who benefit from DACA.

Diego Sanchez, 27, found out about DACA through the news in 2012. He remembers it was a day of joy in the home he shares with his parents and older brother in Peoria. Sanchez has benefited from the program since 2013, and it allowed him to continue his education.

“I graduated high school in 2012 and at that time I was trying to look for classes at a community college, but because I had nothing, it was way more expensive to take classes,” he said. “With the DACA announcement, I was able to reclaim my dream in 2013 when I registered at Glendale Community College.”

For Sanchez, enrolling in college means more than finding a place to pursue higher education — it’s a space where he can find access to needed services and be treated with respect. Sanchez lives with a disability due to a disease that damaged his nerves and limits the movement of his legs and arms.

“Before, it was more difficult for me to be noticed,” he said. “At the college, they assist me in taking notes, sharing powerpoints, but without DACA I couldn’t have accessed the help I needed.”

With DACA, he has no fear about traveling around the country. He has been to the border in Nogales several times to see his sister, who lives in Mexico. The siblings meet and speak as a tall border fence divides them, he said.

Sanchez, who has lived in the U.S. since he was 7, hopes to have a permanent immigration status soon. Right now, he is in a limbo, he said.

“Any day, things can change and it won’t benefit us … The laws have been very slow to address DACA, it shouldn’t take more than nine years, we need a change now.”

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Olga Escaramilla, a Phoenix resident, also hopes for a permanent immigration status for her three children, Yoselin, 25, Jose, 24, and Juan, 22. They all benefit from DACA.

“It’s a lot of mixed feelings, every time there is a renewal there is a fear about what will happen,” she said.

Her three children graduated from a community college and work in clinics as medical assistants. They’ve been at the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

DACA has meant that her children can work and go to college. She left Mexico when they were young kids — just 5, 8 and 9 — and she said she remembers the journey well.

“But I wish I’d forget. It was very traumatizing. For three years, I couldn’t sleep at night because of what we went through,” Escaramilla said. But it was a sacrifice, as she called it, worth taking. She raised her kids, reminding them of a lesson she learned from her mom.

“It costs nothing to dream, but if we dream big, we can achieve a lot,” she said. “You can achieve whatever you put your mind to as long as you keep dreaming.”

For her three children, she dreams of a permanent immigration status. Escaramilla said if she’s left out of permanent relief, she’ll still feel satisfied.

But DACA recipients and advocates are pushing for both young people like Sanchez and parents like Escamilla to be granted a path to citizenship.

Blanco Collazo, 17, also benefits from DACA.

“I don’t want to continue going another nine years, any time longer, with just DACA,” she said. She’s hopeful that the Biden Administration and the Democratic majority in Congress will result in immigration reform soon.

“Now more than ever is definitely possible for there to be a permanent solution – not only myself, also our parents, the rest of the 11 million undocumented that deserve to have the same rights that we all do,” she said.

At the state Capitol, the Arizona Dream Act Coalition’s Arredondo spoke about how last year the DACA community and advocates were waiting on a Supreme Court case that could decide whether the program would end altogether.

For more than two years, new applicants were left out of the DACA program after the Trump Administration announced in 2017 that it would phase out the program. That announcement also canceled a benefit called advance parole, which allowed DACA recipients to travel outside the U.S. under special circumstances.

That year, Eddie Chavez’s grandmother died. With advance parole, Chavez would have been able to go to his grandmother’s funeral. Instead, the DACA recipient had to watch it on his phone.

“I held my mom as she held me when we crossed the border when I was 4… watching her mom get buried in a phone … through FaceTime,” he said. “There is always a reminder that we are not here under status.”

In December, a court ordered USCIS to reinstate DACA to its original form. New applicants can request DACA and advance parole.  

Nearing the end of the rally, Jose Andonaegui, state director of Poder Latinx and a DACA recipient told those who were listening to take a sip of water.  

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“As we are out here taking a sip of water, we are one day — and I can feel it so close to us — going to feel that refreshment, that peace,” he said. “We are going to be able to not only stay in this country and vote but let the people in here and in DC know the power that we hold and that we are no longer scared of them. We are here and we are going to stay here.”

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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Laura Gomez/Arizona Mirror

Local and national community organizations gathered on June 15, 2021, at the Arizona State Capitol to push for two federal legislative proposals that’d grant a pathway to citizenship for DACA beneficiaries, TPS holders, farm workers and undocumented residents.


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