'Dreamers' brace for change, put hopes in Congress

One day ahead of President Donald Trump's expected call for an end to the Obama-era program that offers temporary legal status to hundreds of thousands of so-called "Dreamers," people protected by DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) are on edge.

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"If we lose DACA," said former DACA recipient Yazmin Garcia-Rico, "we don't have a work permit which means that we cannot participate as members of society."

Garcia-Rico said she became a Dreamer in 2012, the first year DACA protections were offered.

"It really changed my life. It's a program that allowed me to come out of the shadows. I went to college and graduated in 2011 but I wasn't able to use my education in ways that I wanted to. So in 2012, I was able to apply for a non-profit in Durham working on immigrant rights, access to higher education, worker rights."
Garcia-Rico described the difference between having DACA status and not:

"Having DACA allows you to have a driver's license, to have a social security number, to apply for utilities for your apartment, rent an apartment, build credit, buy a car; it allows you to be a member of society in ways that you were not able to do before and it makes you feel welcome and it makes you feel part of this community."

The problem for the 800,000 Dreamers around the country and the nearly 30,000 Dreamers in North Carolina is, now the government knows all about them.

"They have our information," said Garcia-Rico. "They have our address, they have fingerprints, picture; so there is a lot of fear. It's not just about beating the shadows. Now we're out of the shadows and we can easily be detected and deported."

Ricky Hurtado is an advocate for first-generation immigrant high-school and college students in North Carolina and said 20 percent of the people he works with have DACA status.

"What we're currently processing as a community," said Hurtado, "more than anything, is betrayal. Our students were asked to trust the government and give them every piece of information they have about their lives to prove that they have no criminal record. These are the best of the best; and now, five years later, the rug is going to be pulled out under them."

"There's a huge fear with what the government can and will do with all of the information they've gathered on all of the students," said Hurtado. "It's forcing close to a million people back into the shadows in a way that they haven't been for many years now."

But advocates of legal immigration disagree.

Ron Woodard with NC Listen described the DACA program as President Barack Obama's "unlawful effort" to "pardon hundreds of thousands of people."

"Sixty-four percent of DACA illegal immigrants are over 18 and can return to their native country and continue their education and/or work legally there," Woodard said by email. "If DACA persons receive an amnesty, one for one they ultimately take jobs and college enrollment that belong to American children. So why should citizens be punished for illegal immigration? What do we tell people waiting in line for years to legally immigrate to the USA to fulfill their 'dreams, when we keep rewarding illegal immigrants?"

Garcia-Rico said that's why she's hoping Congress will step in if President Trump does what he's expected to and ends DACA.

"We need to push for a Dream Act now," she said. "We need to push for a clean Dream Act that will be bipartisan and will not bring any risk to the rest of the community. It needs to be something that will help DACA recipients and maybe even more people.

"Now the urgency is to keep fighting to defend DACA; but if that doesn't happen, to push for something else to be passed by Congress," she said. "Something that makes it permanent so we don't find ourselves in this situation in the future."
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