By Ricardo Fuentes
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Undocumented youth migrating to the USA from Latin America felt relief on Wednesday after a federal judge’s decision to require the Trump administration to justify its deportation efforts, but many stressed that fear of their future still lingers.
“I’m just glad to see people fighting for us and knowing that I’ll be able to continue studying and seeking more opportunities,” said Carlos Gonzalez, who settled in Baltimore City after emigrating from Mexico in 2002.
“We’ve been used as bargaining chips ever since this administration came into the White House,” Gonzalez added, noting that the federal court ruling “is great news and one of many steps for dreamers.”
Gonzalez, along with Veronica Martinez and Ana, both of whom live in Salisbury, recited fond memories of the day former President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA. That day, on June 15, 2012, the struggles of leaving their countries to grow up in a new place with a new language, culture and life, seemed all worthwhile.
For 10 years after arriving in Maryland, Gonzalez said he struggled because Baltimore City only had a small Hispanic population at that time. He was the only Hispanic in his school in the Harford section of Baltimore.
“School was tough,” he said. “It was hard to communicate in school because I didn’t know English. I didn’t even know how to ask my teachers if I could use the bathroom.”
By the time he reached middle school, conditions were not much better.
“Kids would make a lot of jokes,” said Gonzalez. “I would become numb to a lot of things in middle school. Kids don’t know and they are not mature but I could’ve defended myself more.”
Sports helped Carlos in high school. He was involved in football, lacrosse and wrestling teams.
Ana, who asked only to be identified by her first name for fear of retaliation against her and her family, said she immigrated from Guatemala in 2006 and didn’t face too many difficulties in the United States.
“I didn’t really care,” she said. “I was young and when I got into high school, I knew I needed papers.”
The DACA program temporarily shielded certain immigrants from deportation and allowed them to receive work permits. Those efforts were stopped in September 2017, when President Donald Trump ordered the end of DACA and Attorney General Jeff Session set the death knell for the program at March 5.
Like Carlos, Martinez migrated from Mexico in 2004. Despite two unsuccessful attempts, the Martinez family – Veronica, her mother, sister and baby niece – escaped from Nogales, Mexico, a border town near Arizona, crossing the border through the desert.
“We stayed in the desert for two days and then we crossed the border and went to my aunt’s house in Arizona,” said Martinez.
Martinez vividly remembered that her older brother “picked us up in a 1999 Grand Pontiac. It was a small car and traveling in it was uncomfortable.
“My niece needed a car seat so my sister and I had to alternate seats,” she said. “One of us would lie on the floor while the other sat in the seat to make room.”
Martinez was especially happy about DACA.
“DACA was a relief when I got it,” she said. “I remember my friends calling me and telling me. I didn’t believe them. I was working, just finished preparing for the day when my friends called. I could not believe that I was getting a work permit.”
The application was released and completed on June 14, said Martinez who added that the previous day “my friends and I got together and took a shot of vodka.”
Despite Trump’s efforts to deport undocumented young adults, Judge John D. Bates of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia said Tuesday that the administration’s decision to terminate DACA was based on the “virtually unexplained” grounds that the program was “unlawful.” The Department of Homeland Security has been given 90 days to justify canceling DACA. Homeland Security administers DACA.
If the administration fails to give sufficient reasons for canceling the program, the judge said that DACA would continue with officials accepting and processing new, as well as, renewed DACA applications.
Officials estimated about 700,000 of the young undocumented immigrants have signed up but must renew their DACA status every two years. Immigrants must be 15 years old to apply. DACA immigrants, also known as dreamers, also are allowed to work legally in the United States.
“When President Trump stopped DACA it gave me a lot of fear,” said Martinez. “I knew he wanted to get rid of DACA and he is a man that sticks to his word. One day, I want to make it to medical school but even with DACA, we’re not protected.”
By the time Gonzalez completed high school, he “realized that I had to pay out-of-state tuition to attend college.”
Undaunted, Gonzalez said he did not allow his immigration status to stop him. He interned for Del. Marice Morales, while owning and operating his own landscaping company and taking classes at the Baltimore County Community College. His goal is to one day run for a seat on the Baltimore County Council while maintaining his landscaping company. He said that landscaping helps pay for college.
Despite the ups and downs of the federal Dreamers’ act, Maryland has been progressing in the right direction, said Martinez.
Amendments to the Maryland Dream Act pushed through the General Assembly would allow for undocumented students to go straight into a four-year university, once they receive an acceptance letter. These students would be allowed to pay in-state tuition. The other would get rid of the time limit on the act.
Currently, the state DREAM Act, passed in 2012, said a student who attended a Maryland high school for a least three years and graduated or received the equivalent of a high school diploma pays the same tuition that residents pay.
Under the current law, students must begin at a Maryland community college in the same district as the high school from which they graduated. Once the student completes 60 credits, he or she may transfer to a public four-year university and pay in-state tuition.
The new bill removes the credit requirement and would allow for students to directly enter any public state college or university, and extend the period of eligibility from four to six years after graduating from high school. The legislation did not make it to the floor this year.
“Amendment on the Dream Act is good because [it gives] opportunities to undocumented folks,“ said Ana. “I really would like to see DACA come back or another solution to come up since the president took it away.”