BOSTON - People who came to the United States without documentation as children and have been here ever since are commonly referred to as “Dreamers,” based on never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act that would have provided similar protections for young immigrants.
They're woven into our communities; living, working and going to school.
"I am here like anybody else, building a career, building ... my dream and making that dream come true," University of Massachusetts student Estefany Pineda told Boston 25 News.
They stepped out of the shadows of undocumented immigration through the administrative program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, implemented in 2012 by President Barack Obama.
Dreamers must meet strict requirements in order to qualify then for work permits, social security numbers and, in some sates, a driver's license.
But DACA was never a law. It's vulnerable to change, as are the Dreamers.
In September 2017, President Donald Trump's administration announced the program was "winding down."
"It felt like a step back. Like a slap in the face almost," Framingham State Graduate Palloma Jovita said of the announcement.
The legal challenges to the Trump administration's decision left the future of DACA tied up in courts for more than a year.
"I am just constantly checking DACA online, on Google, on news on my phone," Pineda said.
Dreamers have been left in limbo, moving forward with their lives, but facing political opposition.
"Amnesties do encourage more illegal immigration, so we need to have more enforcement improvements in place before enacting a legal amnesty," The Center for Immigration Studies' Jessica Vaughan explained.
They also face a social stigma -- the idea that they're taking someone else's opportunity.
"I worked really hard to have what I have," said Jovita.
The Dreamers we met say they feel obligated to inform, educate and offer a new perspective about why they're daring to dream.
"Outside powers have so much control over our lives and over what we can do," Bruno Villegas, a Harvard Student, said. "One thing they have zero control over is my story."
We spent months with people on all sides of this issue.
Many of the young Dreamers are speaking publicly for the first time.
"If me speaking can open up at least one person's mind to what we actually go through, then I feel accomplished,” said Mass Bay Community College student Adla Do Carmo.
Who are the Dreamers?
The Migration Policy Institute estimates as of May 2018, 702,250 people signed up for DACA. The federal government estimates 1.326 million are likely eligible.
"Outside powers have so much control over our live and over what we can do. One thing they have zero control over is my story,” said Harvard University student, Bruno Villegas.
In Massachusetts, there are 6,070 DACA recipients out of about 19,000 who are eligible. They come from a variety of countries in Central and South America, Asia and Africa.
To qualify for DACA, Boston immigration attorney Todd Pomerleau said would-be Dreamers first have to meet a set of criteria.
"You had to have been under the age of 16 when you entered the country. You had to have been in the country before June, 2007,” Pomerleau said.
“Dreamers must be high school graduates, have a GED or be enrolled in a GED program. And, they must prove they've been in the U.S. continuously since they arrived. That's through a lot of documentation: school records, medical records, witness statements, photographs," said Pomerleau.
DACA recipients are thoroughly screened as part of the process.
"You get fingerprinted and there's a background check run to see if you have a criminal record, if you have any ties to gangs, terrorism,” explained Pomerleau.
The application costs $500. DACA leads to work authorization, which is good for two years.
With that card, Dreamers can get a social security number. Massachusetts will issue driver's licenses, but other states vary.
Political Stalemate and Social Opposition
Jessica Vaughan says amnesty for ‘Dreamers’ encourages illegal immigration. So, her group is pushing for better enforcement and major cuts, before that happens.
"We think there should be an amnesty for people with DACA, but that that amnesty should be combined with offsetting cuts to legal immigration,” Vaughan said. “Amnesties do encourage more ‘illegal’ immigration so we need to have more enforcement improvements in place before enacting a legal amnesty.”
The Center for Immigration Studies suggest cuts should come to other legal immigration routes including the visa lottery and family sponsored visas.
There are several legislative bills floating around Congress, including The Succeed Act, sponsored by Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina.
He believes the solution lies in compromise in the middle.
"What we're trying to do is come up with the right balance, so we can overcome the objections of the extremes of either party,” Tillis told Boston 25 News.
The Succeed Act proposes a path to citizenship for Dreamers.
"If you're gainfully employed or if you're going to school, or you're serving in the military, then we can put a path to citizenship within 10 years if you're already in the program and 12 years if you're not,” said Senator Tillis.
His bill includes funding for border security, but not a border wall.
That's one reason some Republicans say the Succeed Act doesn't go far enough.
Some Democrats have balked at the bill, saying the requirements are too stringent.
So far, no bill has come close to reaching a compromise in Washington or come close to a vote.
Higher Education in Massachusetts
Boston 25 News Reporter Crystal Haynes contributed to this discussion, speaking with the leaders of several local universities.
“I think we need to recognize that today’s DACA was yesterday’s legal immigrant,” said UMASS Boston Chancellor Katherine Newman. “…we have everything to gain from welcoming these students and making sure they prosper.”
UMass Boston has an entire department for undocumented student support, those are students with no documentation, including DACA.
With the future of DACA tied up in courts, colleges and universities are creating their own polices and they vary greatly school to school and state to state.
States likes Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia prohibit undocumented students from enrolling in select public colleges.
In a statement to Boston 25 News, MIT President Rafael Reif said of immigrant students:
“They are among the incredibly talented young people who come to MIT to work on some of the world’s biggest challenges.”
Boston 25 News In-Depth Conversation
The In-Depth program, ‘Daring to Dream’ includes a candid conversation with many young Dreamers. It also included passionate opponents, lawmakers, university leaders, and legal experts. You’re invited to join this in this conversation, using #DaringtoDream.
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