Thursday, May 18, 2017

DACA Students Trapped Between Fear and Anger

His parents brought Lopez from Mexico to the U.S. in 2007 when he was 15 years old. They had no immigration papers but managed to find their way to Santa Barbara. “My parents worked as hired laborers but we still had a fairly good life,” said Lopez, currently a student in San Jose who hopes to graduate this Spring with double majors in International Business Administration and Finance and transfer to San Francisco State U in Fall. “But now with Trump as president, everything is up in the air. I cannot walk down the street without looking back to see if ICE agents are about to grab me. They know where I live, where I work.”

How does ICE knows that?

“I am a DACA student (note: DACA stands for “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” 
a program started by President Obama in 2012 that protects some undocumented youths from deportation)
 so I can study and work without any problem. But I have to renew my registration every 2 years. That’s when I have to give them my address, where I study and work. They have me in their database.”

But if you are legally permitted to study and work, why the stress?

“The fear is always there. I read stories of ICE agents picking up undocumented Mexicans. With Trump in power these guys have become aggressive. My parents returned to Mexico several years ago. I thought of going back myself but they told me not to because life has become very violent in their village deep in Southern Mexico. They said I wouldn’t last a day.”

I was talking with several DACA students in San Jose whose lives had taken a turn for the worse ever since president Trump took office.

“It’s the uncertainty and the stress and the fear that’s killing me,” said Maria, who will be graduating in a year and hopes to become a dentist. “I come from a mixed family. I have two sisters who were born here, so they are citizens. But my parents are undocumented. I am undocumented. I don’t know what will happen if my parents are deported. Who will look after my little sisters? My family can be torn apart any minute.”

Have you contacted city officials, the mayor’s office?

“Yes, many of us did. We prepared a list of questions like ‘How is San Jose a sanctuary city? What does it mean? What kind of assistance can we get in these safe places? How can you ensure that DACA students can safely exit and return to USA in case of emergencies? If a parent is detained, can the city do anything for the children?’ and so on. The Mayor’s office was friendly and supportive but the best they can do now is to fund some existing non-profits like SIREN and PACT to help us. It will take too long for the city to create its own agency to help us.”

What about churches and synagogues?

“We have heard that many churches and synagogues in the Bay Area have become sanctuaries but we haven’t contacted them yet,” said Valdez, who will graduate next summer and has applied to several medical schools. “Right now we are being cautious. Even though we are DACA, our status can be revoked anytime for any ridiculous reason. It has happened to people I know. The fear is constant. But I will tell you something, I am fed up with fear. I don’t believe in hiding. Why should I have to hide or act afraid? I work hard. I contribute to America like other Americans. I am a good person. The way Trump talks, it’s as if any Mexican or American of Mexican background is a criminal.”

So how do we move forward?

“There is a lack of empathy in this country,” said Valdez. “Most Americans who voted for Trump in the Midwest don’t care about immigration or deportation or the Muslim ban. They want good jobs, good salary, good vacation. They want good healthcare. In fact, it’s only healthcare that will either make it or break it for them with Trump. If Trump fails them in healthcare, they will go against him.  In the meantime, we need to talk with them with respect, with empathy. But they need to talk us too! They complain about jobs Mexicans and others are taking away but they don’t want the dirty jobs we do and our parents do. They don’t want to work in restaurants, in the fields, as cleaners, as laborers. There’s a gap in communication. We need to fill that gap. We need to walk in their shoes and they need to walk in ours. How can we know one another if there’s no empathy?”

Have you faced discrimination at work or when applying for jobs?

“We can’t apply for any federal job, like the post office or the IRS,” said Rivera, who has been with a high-tech company for a year in the marketing department. “Our undocumented status doesn’t allow us. Even in the private sector, we face too much hassle from some managers. If they know we are undocumented, there’s immediately a bias. It’s not true for all managers but definitely true for some. It’s difficult to explain how we know bias. We just know it in our guts. Not all hiring managers are like that. I have a great manager now and I am happy. But it’s a fact, my manager cannot protect me from ICE.”

Do you think America will come out stronger as a nation once this current dark period passes?

Lucia isn’t sure.

“I am not that optimistic. Look at American history. There was slavery, segregation, civil rights movement and all that but racism flourishes, more under Trump than any time in my memory. There were Internment camps. I heard some people openly talking of Muslim registry. But we are told in history books that these are only little bumps, nothing to worry about. We hide them under the rug and say, ‘America, Not Guilty!’ It may look like Trump is losing but unless we change and come together, unless we put law above politics, he may be here for a long time.”

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