A Dreamer’s lament: ‘I don’t want these to be the last holidays that I spend with my family’

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Steve Marcus

Sandra Perez and her daughter Melina Leon, 8, participate in an immigration march and rally organized by Make the Road Nevada Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. Marchers called on politicians to pass a clean bill for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants of select countries.

Mon, Dec 18, 2017 (2 a.m.)

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals allowed certain young immigrants brought to the United States illegally to live here for two years and pursue work authorization without risk of deportation if they met program requirements. President Barack Obama created DACA in 2012 through executive action. To date, the program has had more than 800,000 participants, called Dreamers, nationwide.

To qualify, immigrants had to be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012; have arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16; continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007; were in the U.S. on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making their request for consideration of deferred action; had no lawful status on June 15, 2012; are in school, graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, obtained a GED certificate, or were an honorably discharged veteran; and had not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and did not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

"They have a chance to put their words into actions"

There is no deal in place to give relief to young immigrants whose deferred-action status will expire because of Trump’s decision to end the program.

How is it affecting the Las Vegas community?

Jose Magana is protected and able to work because of the DACA program, but he is worried about how he’ll care for his parents if he loses his status.

Magana was 2 months old when he was brought from Mexico to the United States in 1988, only learning that he was living in the country illegally when he tried to join the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps at 16. He’s lived in Las Vegas since he was 6 years old, attending school at Mojave High, the College of Southern Nevada and UNLV.

He did not qualify for financial aid and paid for his education out-of-pocket. He now works as an optician.

“Now I’m able to give back to my community,” he said. “I’m able to help people see for the first time. I’m able to change American lives.”

Magana has attended immigration forums and protested the decision to end DACA. Law enforcement and lawyers have said there is heightened concern in the community, which Magana echoed.

“If I were to get deported,” Magana said, “all my dreams, all the things I’ve worked for my entire life, would obviously come to an end.”

Recipients whose status expires March 5 had until Oct. 5 to apply for a two-year renewal, and some who missed the deadline will still be allowed to submit paperwork if they can prove the delay was the fault of the U.S. Postal Service.

Republicans, including Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., have floated several options to provide relief to DACA recipients, but Democrats have said these plans carry tighter restrictions.

“They have a chance to put their words into actions by voting for a clean Dream Act,” says Nevada Dreamer Erika Castro. “I don’t want these to be the last holidays that I spend with my family.”

Republican leaders in Congress have not brought any of these options up for discussion or vote, though some in the party are pushing for action.

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., signed on to the Dream Act discharge petition to force the bill to a floor vote in the House. He’d previously said he would sign the petition if no other option for young immigrants was forthcoming before the end of the year.

Heller and Amodei have not said they would vote for the Dream Act, but each signaled support for legislation to give deportation protection to certain young immigrants living in the country illegally.

Democrats in Nevada’s congressional delegation have all signed on to the Dream Act. Five Republicans in the House are among 200 cosponsors of the bill, and four Republicans, including bill sponsor Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are supporting the version in the Senate.

Advocates say DACA relief needs to pass this year as Congress funds the immigration enforcement programs that would deport those who lose their protected status.

Lawmakers have voiced broad support for certain young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and living in the country illegally. More than 30 House Republicans sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan on Dec. 5 expressing support of passing a permanent solution for DACA recipients this year. Polls have also shown most voters favor these protections.

Congress has not passed comprehensive immigration reform since the Reagan administration. A comprehensive immigration reform bill passed the Democratic-controlled Senate in 2013, but never received a committee hearing in the Republican-led House.

Tom Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told reporters that there would be more workplace enforcement in the future. ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection released year-end reports this month showing a drop in apprehensions but a rise in unaccompanied minors and adults with children.

“It’s another magnet for illegal immigration,” Homan said of workplaces. “A lot of these companies are exploiting these workers.”

Officials repeatedly said the new administration is giving them the ability to enforce immigration laws and is deterring people from attempting to cross the border.

“We have clearly seen the successful results of the president’s commitment to supporting the frontline officers and agents of DHS as they enforce the law and secure our borders,” said Elaine Duke, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

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