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November 2017


Dreamers' nightmare
Susan Rubenstein DeMasi


DACA car
A local car promotes the need to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. (photo by Susan Rubenstein DeMasi)

Let’s call her Sofia. Always a bright student, her earliest memories include winning the spelling bee three years in a row in elementary school. Sofia and her best friend, Becca, worked on science fair projects together in middle school, taking first place in seventh grade. The two girls, who met at the local library’s toddler story time, were inseparable and shared a love of learning. As they progressed together in school they dreamed of attending medical school.

But growing up, Sofia did not know that it would probably be impossible to follow the same path to this imagined future. Like many others who came to this country as young children, Sofia did not know she was an undocumented immigrant until she tried to get a drivers’ license and discovered she was ineligible. When Becca worked on financial aid applications for college, Sofia quietly and painfully stepped back, unable to share another milestone with her friend.

Sofia was born in El Salvador. Her parents made the exodus to the U.S. with her when she was a baby, escaping poverty and violence in their native land. They came to the U.S., paid taxes, worked long hours in jobs that many citizens didn’t want and raised Sofia and her brother who was born in the U.S. They never missed a back-to-school night. They volunteered in the community: her mother at their church, her father as an EMT.

Similarly, Becca’s ancestors emigrated from faraway lands, also escaping poverty, violence and starvation in Europe a century earlier. Becca’s family fortunately were able to make the journey just before “national origin” quotas (laws that limited certain emigrants from Europe, namely, Italians and Eastern European Jews) took effect in the U.S. in the 1920s.

But this story is about Sofia, as well as Emely and Manuel and Aditya and Minseo and all of the “Dreamers”—millions of Latin Americans, Asians and others brought here as children.

You’ve probably heard about DACA, the acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The program created under President Barack Obama’s administration aided young people like Sofia in various ways. Under DACA, Dreamers could apply for temporary legal status which would offer protection from deportation while also permitting them to obtain drivers’ licenses and work permits.

By removing some of the barriers faced by Dreamers, thousands of young people—many of whom could not even remember the land of their birth—finally could participate more fully in society. They attended college, with many going on to graduate school and professional careers in teaching, healthcare, business and more. Concomitantly, they paid higher taxes, thus contributing even more to society.

And then, with the stroke of a pen, hopes and dreams turned to dread and nightmares.

On September 5, President Trump, with little public notice, announced that he will terminate DACA. The new regulations gave eligible current DACA recipients only one month to renew their deferred action. Trump’s decree did not allow for any new DACA applications, so Dreamers who did not already have DACA could not apply for it after September 5, 2017.

Worse, the Department of Homeland Security did not use the standard deadline of a postmark. Applicants had to mail their forms and hope they’d be received by the October 5 deadline.  Even worse, the possibility of renewal was only available to those whose DACA status expired between September 5, 2017, and March 5, 2018. For all others, their DACA status—along with work permits and drivers’ licenses and other allowances—will expire two years from when they first received status, with no mechanism for renewal.

These developments bring serious consequences for our students as they struggle with the threat of deportation, along with losing DACA benefits. According to LI WINS, a local nonprofit organization that advocates for practical immigration solutions, “an estimated 1,300 young immigrants will lose DACA status every week from now until March as their work permits expire.”

In this frightening political climate, the fear of deportation is real enough that anecdotally, students have left school, wanting to keep a low profile, and also worry that they may return from classes one day to find their families taken away. One member reported that a student tearfully left campus recently because she found out her mother was about to be deported.

The FA supports the efforts of the College-wide Undocumented Students Task Force, comprised of faculty and administrators from all three campuses, along with a student representative. This task force is focusing its efforts on activism, educational programming and resources, and visual displays to provide information to the college community. (The group is open to all; email co-chair Patty Munsch if you want to join.) Their webpage, which has had over 400 views since its creation on September 18, offers additional information and resource links: Additionally, SCCC President Dr. Shawn McKay has signed on to nationwide petitions advocating for DACA legislation.

The FA’s social justice program stands in solidarity with actions that support immigrant rights and progressive legislation. We recognize that this issue is too complex to cover in a brief article. Please continue to educate yourself and others by looking at the resources offered via the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) and the American Teachers Federation (AFT) websites.