DACA and DAPA: More Than Just a Policy

By Diana Pliego
March 15, 2016

To many, November 20, 2014 was just another day. To millions of others, it was a day long anticipated with hope for a drastic change in the way they lived their lives.

For them, a Presidential announcement that would be made that day could mean receiving the opportunity to work legally in the United States, obtain their driver’s license, and be safe from deportation proceedings that separate families and uproot lives. It could mean no longer living in fear.

For my family, that is exactly what that announcement for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) meant.

For too long, my family has lived in fear and in the shadows. My parents are afraid of the most mundane tasks due to the very real and ever-present fear of deportation that looms over us and millions of others each and every day. Every trip to the store is a calculated risk, every commute to work is taken with extreme caution, and every sighting of the police incites fear and unease. My parents do not celebrate holidays like most Americans. Celebrating the Fourth of July would require leaving our house on one of the most patrolled nights of the year. We understand that police are only trying to keep our communities safe by catching those who chose to drive under the influence, but a single stop at a check point could result in my parents being detained and potentially deported.  These same fears keep us indoors on New Year’s, Christmas, Memorial Day, Labor Day and any other highly patrolled day of the year.

DAPA would mean they could obtain a driver’s license and leave the house like any other American wishing to celebrate this great country on Independence Day, because, like many other immigrants, they have a different perspective and unique sense of gratitude for this land of opportunity.

My family, like many others, immigrated to the United States in search of a better life. In 1994, Mexico experienced its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  In 1996, my dad lost his job at a bank where he had worked for seven years. There were no jobs to be found. Church members with small businesses, barely making ends meet themselves, were hiring other church members for jobs not needed as a way to help our their fellow sisters and brothers. My father tried to start a small business selling fruits and vegetables, but he had no car and was barely breaking even with his business expenses. He had four mouths to feed, another on the way, and the way things were going he would not be able to afford my mother’s upcoming childbirth costs. So, he decided to come to the U.S. in search of job opportunities—a temporary solution while things got better at home. But, they never did.

A year later, after much prayer and internal struggle, my mother followed my father’s steps and came to the U.S. with my brothers and me at her sides and in her arms. My older brother was five, I was three, and my younger brother was seven months old. My youngest brother was later born in the U.S. in 1998. This happened despite surgical efforts to prevent my mother from having any more children. You could say he was meant to be born. It is because of him that my parents qualify for DAPA.

DAPA would provide for them what Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) provided for my brothers and me in 2012. Because we had arrived in the US before the age of 16 and met other requirements, we received work permits which allowed us to receive a social security number. That long-coveted nine-digit number allowed us to obtain a driver’s license—a common rite of passage that to us meant belonging and safety. But more importantly, we received a two year protection from deportation. We could finally get jobs, drive, and plan for our future knowing we now had one. We could now attend state colleges and could be employed upon graduation, a very real fear of many undocumented college students.

DACA changed my family’s life. It enabled my family to pay for my first three years of my college because, despite earning a scholarship, it took every member of my family working, including my two high school brothers and me, to cover the costs of room and board. Three years later, our financial circumstances have shifted 180 degrees. We still face financial challenges like many families, but we no longer worry about where our next meal is coming from. For us, that is a victory. I can only imagine the change my family would experience if my parents were afforded the same opportunities for advancement. What kind of job would my mother qualify for with her incredible spirit and talent for working with people? Would my father finally step back from the physically demanding job that is taking a toll on his body and pursue a different, higher paying career? Would my older brother finally be able continue his education?

If DAPA were implemented, how would the lives of immigrant families across the U.S. change? How would our nation be impacted? According to the Center for American Progress, every day that we do not implement DAPA and expanded DACA, the U.S. loses $8.4 million in GDP. See the cumulative total here.

In 2012, DACA could not have come soon enough. In 2014, DAPA did not come soon enough, but it came. Unfortunately, 13 days later Texas and other states filed a lawsuit against the President’s executive action. For almost a year, these actions kept DAPA tied up the courts. On November 9, 2015, the 5th Circuit Court ruled against the administrative actions.

One year after the original announcement, the Department of Justice filed an appeal asking the Supreme Court to take up this case. Three days later, Texas requested 30 more days to review the White House’s appeal. More delays. In the meantime, families continue to live in fear and with limited opportunities. Fortunately, in a rare move by the Supreme Court, the 5th Circuit Court was denied its request and instead granted an extension of only eight days. This move made it much more likely that the Supreme Court would take up the case during the current term and come to a decision by late June—a small, but significant victory for DACA/DAPA.  Finally, on January 19, the Supreme Court decided to take up the case.

Recently, NETWORK participated in a “Prayer for Justice” at the Supreme Court where people from different faith backgrounds and immigrants gathered to show support for DACA/DAPA. Religious leaders from different faiths said a prayer for justice for immigrants across the United States. Young children with undocumented parents, like my citizen brother, came forward and spoke bravely of their reality. Hearing my childhood story of fear and financial hardship being told by yet another generation broke my heart in ways that I cannot describe.  My heart broke a little more when I heard seven year-old Eddy ask for DAPA for his parents because he “doesn’t want to lose them.” Tears swelled up in my eyes as I heard my own fears expressed through the mouth of a young child, because losing your parents to deportation is a fear that does not diminish with age. If anything, I understand now better than ever the real implications of policy being debated and politicized. I understand the cruelty of playing politics with people’s lives. Eddy was born in Ohio, just like my youngest brother. His demeanor and bravery reminded me of my brother at that age. His story, and the story of all the others who testified, reminded me why I do what I do. We cannot give up this fight.

Our prayer is that the Supreme Court rules wisely by upholding the executive action of President Obama. By doing so, they will change the lives of millions of families and create further prosperity for our nation as DACA once did.