DACA Recipients: Here Are Steps You Can Take as a Clean DREAM Act Remains Elusive

Lead Photo: Photo by Itzel Alejandra Martinez for Remezcla
Photo by Itzel Alejandra Martinez for Remezcla
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Congress has once again failed DREAMers. After a five and a half hours government shutdown early Friday morning, the legislative body passed a budget deal that includes no protection for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

In September, President Donald Trump rescinded DACA – a program that has allowed young undocumented immigrants to live in the United States without fear of deportation. He called on Congress to pass legislation to replace the program, but all the while, he’s insisted that the protection of these young undocumented immigrants come with increased border security and money to fund his proposed border wall. The immigrant community has fought this every step of the way and put pressure on their representatives to force a government shutdown if the spending bill didn’t come attached to a Clean Dream Act – that is, one that doesn’t put other immigrant groups at risk.

Recently, a federal judge blocked the Trump Administration from ending DACA, but this has provided little solace to the DACAmented because the ruling could be challenged at any moment. That’s why Friday’s decision is another blow to DACA recipients, who are every day losing their protections.

As the federal government continues to let them down, the future of young undocumented immigrants is in limbo. And as feelings of uncertainty continue to surface, it’s important that this community has a plan in place. We reached out to United We Dream, two lawyers at National Immigrant Justice Center, and one DACA recipient with a background in immigration legal services to learn what young undocumented immigrants should keep in mind during these difficult times.

Legal/immigrant centers are important resources.

Organizations, even when operated by students, can provide resources to young undocumented immigrants. Most universities have an immigrant advocacy group on campus, and those that have law school may also have immigration clinics. If you’re at the University of Texas at Austin, for example, its law school has an immigration clinic dedicated to assisting DREAMers file applications. It also developed model materials for group workshops used throughout the country. The University of Southern California’s immigration clinic provides free emotional and legal support to students. Since its inception in 2001, the clinic has resolved 200 cases in immigration court.

The University of Texas at San Antonio has also started a DREAMers Resource Center to address the needs of this group.

“Seek out those allies at university or college, whether it’s the college resource center or an immigrant rights group,” says Irakere Picon, a lawyer at the National Immigrant Justice Center. “This really requires the individual to be an advocate for themselves and find those allies and people who will be responsive to their needs.”

Even if you’re not at school, there are free and low-cost immigration legal services throughout the country. It’s important that individuals get themselves and their families screened for any sort of immigration relief.

Speak to your landlord.

On top of worrying about deportation, DACA recipients are also concerned about their living situations. Picon suggests speaking to your landlord to come to an agreement. “Try to come to a mutual understanding or mutual agreement,” Picon says.

But of course, if that’s not something you feel comfortable with, consider subleasing your apartment.

Know your rights at work.

A social security number is valid for life, even if work permits or DACA expires. Use the number to open a bank account or complete day-to-day tasks. If an individual has a valid work permit, they have the right to refuse to answer an employer’s question regarding immigration status, according to the National Immigrant Justice Center.

Juan Belman, a DREAMer with a background in legal services, says it’s advisable to carry a copy of work permits, but not the actual permit in case it’s lost or stolen.

Have a safety plan.

Have your immigration lawyer’s phone number memorized, should you need it. Also, memorize the number of someone you trust who can enact your safety plan if you’re detained.

Your family, who may be hesitant to discuss possible deportation, should also know what the plan of action is, as well as where important documentation is kept.

“As they move forward with this uncertainty, they should not be afraid to ask questions from good sources just because there is so much constantly changing,” says Kate Ramos, a lawyer at National Immigrant Justice Center. “There is no such thing as a dumb question when it comes to immigration.”

United We Dream is also working to make preparedness packets available for all undocumented immigrants. The organization didn’t disclose details for confidentiality reasons.

Have a plan of action for your children.

All immigrants with young children have a painful decision to make: Will they take their kids from the only country they know or will they leave them behind?

Lawyers at the National Immigrant Justice Center said the process for deportation tends to be slow, so while it’s important to have a safety plan, it doesn’t have to be immediate. If a DACA recipient has a young child, for example, they should have all their school, medical, and other important documents filed away and accessible to someone they trust in case of deportation.

However, they do not necessarily need to start planning for change in guardianship. Ramos said an individual should have someone who can pick up their child from school or take them to see a doctor.

Be cautious about what you share on social media.

Immigration activists have used social media as a tool to raise awareness of this community’s plight. But Belman advises young undocumented immigrants to exercise caution. This means they should be wary of sharing personal details and their locations.

“Anything we post on social media is open to the public regardless of whether we post it publicly or privately,” Belman says.

Look after yourself.

Belman advises individuals to be mindful of their psychological health during these times of uncertainty. “I feel like every day we hear something new happening,” he says. “There is some new law or a different law, so it’s important to seek counseling to help one through these tough times. We need that support.”

In October, Asian-American groups launched a mental health program aimed specifically at DACA recipients. Some students training in the field have also provided free mental health care for undocumented immigrants.