I realized that not all my visitors may be aware of what Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is and how it makes my specific story as an undocumented, “DACAmented” individual different from someone that is still fully undocumented. At the bottom of my explanation I will link some resources to further read on what DACA is and the difference from being completely undocumented.
What I will be sharing is my story about how I learned about DACA and how it impacted my life.
For that I need to make a reference to President Barrack Obama’s announcement on DACA on June 15th, 2012. You can watch what I was watching as a 17 year old in high school here: DACA Announcement.
Whether or not you watched the announcement the bottom line was that to me standing in the living room on June 15, 2012, was a life-changing moment. My excitement at having heard President Obama embrace me as an American was beyond this world. I felt emotional. I felt hopeful. For a couple of years, I had begun to feel that life would be such a huge uphill climb because I was undocumented.
The first time I learned I was undocumented was in 9th grade when I was 14. I had been so excited to turn 14 and a half to be able to take driver’s ed. My excitement was short-lived. The second day of driver’s ed they sent us all home with an application and the third or fourth field after “Last Name” was “SSN”. This was something I knew I didn’t have. This was also the moment I realized how me being undocumented affected others around that were US citizens. My neighborhood best friend at the time needed a ride home after driver’s ed and my dad would have been fine picking us both up after school if only I could have been eligible to take driver’s ed. You were required to have an SSN to be eligible for a driver’s license.
With Obama’s announcement, I was going to be able to apply for DACA and receive a couple of things. First, an SSN. Second, work authorization. Third, acknowledgment by the US government that I was unlawfully present in the US but would be allowed to stay without fear of deportation for 2 years. 2 years is what is allotted when you apply for DACA.
Let me break down the three things I was going to get with DACA. An SSN was going to allow me to get a driver’s license. It had been 3 years since I had fathomed getting a driver’s license. 3 years. I had given up hope of getting one and I only prayed that I would never get pulled over for an expired tag, or come across an unfortunately placed traffic checkpoint that would either get me detained for driving without a license or an expensive ticket my parents would have had to pay that was not in our best interest given we lived paycheck to paycheck to get by. I had to always go out of my way to drive down back roads, and ask around my friend and family group to see if anyone had come across a traffic checkpoint I could avoid by going around it.
I was going to be granted work authorization. Going into my 15th birthday after discovering I would not be eligible for a driver’s license I knew the milestone of being of age to legally work would not be achievable as an undocumented person. Even now, as I write this it causes me great sadness to think of how I wanted to work but a lack of a paper held me back. It’s hard. I would hear of some of my friends that were American citizens getting cars, starting jobs to pay for their outings, and also of those that didn’t bother getting either. It made me angry when I heard of people that didn’t go out and get their license or their first job. It was all I ever wanted and they had it but did not take advantage of it.
I would also be getting a respite from worrying about deportation. A constant fear I still live with today for some of my family members. This sigh of relief came at a price, though. My family and I were initially afraid to even apply for DACA. The government was asking us to disclose all the information about ourselves. Applying for DACA provided no guarantee that you were going to get it. What if I disclosed my status, where I went to school, where I lived, and information about my parents too. What if the moment I sent in my application U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) came knocking at our door to take us into custody and process me or a family member for deportation. I had only lived in Mexico for 3 years. I would be getting deported to a country I had no familiarity with. This fear caused me to wait until others applied and were approved to confirm it was real.
It wasn’t until early 2013 that I finally sent in my application. I had to read the application’s fine print, seek legal help, collect as much documentation to fulfill the requirements for DACA, as many details of how I had gotten to the US, and all the locations I had lived since getting to the US. On top of this, there was a $500 application fee for DACA. Again, remember that there was NO guarantee that I would even get it. Oh, we were also living paycheck to paycheck and had to allocate these extra funds to a trickle of hope. Many other undocumented individuals also incurred $1000s worth of legal consultation fees. I didn’t pay for legal assistance because the application was expensive for my family as it was.
But, we took a leap of faith and today I have gone through 4 DACA applications; approximately $2100 worth of application fees. Not including transportation costs to get to my biometrics appointments at USCIS offices and having to call out of school and work. My first renewal I had to tell my undergraduate chemistry professor that I was not going to be present for our second major exam because I could not miss my appointment to get my fingerprints taken along with a background check.
So again, what is DACA? DACA has been my greatest opportunity. While I still lack many privileges I have made the most of what I got and every time I get 2 more years I know that I must make the best out of them. I cannot travel outside of the US. I cannot apply for citizenship because no path to citizenship is available outside of marrying a US citizen or leaving the US to “apply the right way” from Mexico which could take decades to return to the US “the right way.”
I have to mention that because of the Trump administration’s decision to rescind DACA many now eligible teenagers are unable to benefit from what I received. They are fully undocumented and cannot legally drive, work, or be worry-free of deportation.
I could not put everything DACA has given me in one post but I hope that it has given you some perspective into what it is other than just an executive action policy instated for undocumented individuals. We are people. The lack of a piece of paper should not make us any less.
Thank you for reading! Resources are below to more information about DACA. Please, comment with any questions or requests to elaborate on anything I mentioned above.