Opinion: Give DACA recipients their full rights
By Eliana Fernández
For 19 years, I have called the United States my home, my safe place and a country that I dearly love. Yet, it continues to deny me recognition as one of its own as a result of my immigration status. I have lived here longer than in the country of my birth, and I have learned to love every little thing that makes America, America, from its language to its seasons, its food and its noise, even its fast-paced lifestyle.
I was born in Ecuador and came to the United States when I was 14 years old. As a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient, I have been able to finish college and buy a home — but my life has been measured in two-year increments.
Soon after I arrived in this country, I realized that many of my dreams would not come true because I was missing one piece of the puzzle — “legal status.” I have never let my immigration status define who I am as a person or what I can achieve, but the reality is that it has presented a series of obstacles that have been hard to overcome.
In this episode of the podcast Getting to the Root with Alexandra Whitbeck, listen to Eliana discuss her thoughts on the Dream and Promise Act, the provisions of the legislation that she believes need to be altered and the strides that are being made to pass this measure in the Senate.
One summer morning in June 2012, President Barack Obama announced he would sign an executive order called DACA to protect young people who came to the United States as children from deportation. This moment would take my life and dreams on a completely different, and revolutionary, path.
The DACA program has been my safeguard, even if every two years I must renew my status. The same program has also allowed me to become vocal and get involved in the immigrant rights movement, through which I witnessed some of the worst aspects this country had to offer during the Trump administration.
Many undocumented immigrants like myself became easy prey for Donald Trump, who constantly forced us to fight back against all of the anti-immigrant sentiment and policies that were unleashed under this presidency. Defending DACA on the streets, and inside of the courts where I served as one of the plaintiffs against Trump for unlawfully ending the program, has been one of the greatest privileges of my life.
Our resistance and collective power as a movement delivered our DACA victory when we won at the U.S. Supreme Court last June, and then this January, when President Joe Biden was sworn in. Many promises were made on the campaign trail last year that led me to believe a legislative solution would finally be introduced to protect people like me and the rest of the 11 million undocumented people in this country.
Then, on March 18, HR6, also known as the Dream and Promise Act, was voted on in the House of Representatives, promising a pathway to legalization for an estimated 3.1 million people, including DACA and TPS (Temporary Protective Status) recipients. Passage of the bill belonged to the immigrant youth and community that for years has led the fight to build a movement to provide our people with respect, dignity and the pathway to citizenship that we deserve.
Passage of this bill in the House brings the promise of long-overdue relief to millions of undocumented youth and TPS holders who have organized, rallied in the streets, shared their stories and flooded the halls of Congress.
This vote brings me one step closer to ensuring that I will be able to have permanent protections in this country and remain together with my children and family.
Nonetheless, as our immigrant community celebrates the bill’s passage, it is crucial to recognize that there are problematic provisions in this legislation that must be fixed. The bill includes harmful measures that rely on our unjust, discriminatory criminal legal system. The provisions leave out community members who should be eligible for a pathway to citizenship, but would not be simply because they might have had contact with the legal system.
I know we face an uphill battle in the Senate to pass this legislation, but we urge senators to take up this bill quickly, and at the same time we call on Senate Majority Leader Schumer to immediately remove the harmful provisions, reject any additions that would further criminalize our communities and then move swiftly to pass this measure.
Eliana Fernández, of Patchogue, is lead organizer at the Brooklyn-based nonprofit Make the Road New York, an immigrant rights organization, and a plaintiff in Wolf v. Batalla Vidal, one of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals cases decided by the Supreme Court, which ruled President Trumps’ efforts to end DACA were unlawful. She has become a national spokesperson for undocumented immigrants like herself.
Fernández graduated from St. Joseph’s College. She is the mother to two beautiful U.S.-born children and is a first-time homeowner on Long Island.