Ohio DACA Recipient Remains Hopeful Despite Uncertain Future
Words by Marissa Nichol | Illustration by Jaron Puszakowski
— Editor’s note: To protect this DACA recipient, we have changed the subject’s name.
A part-time retail employee taking classes at a community college sounds like a typical American student.
What sets this particular student apart? She was brought to the U.S. from Irapuato, Guanajuato, Mexico with her mother and siblings at the age of 3.
Now 23, Tricia is enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program introduced by the Obama administration in 2012. DACA provides a two-year protection from deportation and a work permit to eligible individuals who entered the U.S. without choice.
The Trump Administration announced an executive order to end DACA on Sept. 5 and gave Congress a six-month period to replace DACA with a permanent program.
“This isn’t what a regular college student should have to go through.”
New applications for DACA will not be processed and existing work permits will be honored until their expiration date.
If Congress does not act, Tricia won’t be able to renew her work permit when it expires in April 2019, leaving her unsure of her own future.
“It’s very frustrating because I don’t know if I should drop out of school and get a full-time job to save up to go live in a place I am unfamiliar with,” Tricia says. “I already have tests to study for, and this is just making it more stressful. This isn’t what a regular college student should have to go through.”
A DACA recipient’s journey to the U.S.
Tricia moved to the U.S. in 1994. Because of her father’s abusive behavior toward her mother, her parents separated. Tricia, her three siblings and their mother often moved into the homes of other unrelated families they met, like the basement of a friend of her uncle on her mother’s side.
“I was scared and uncomfortable. We had no beds so we would just sleep on the floor,” Tricia says. “We had our same clothes on for two weeks. One day we were walking and a stranger saw us and took us to Saint Mary’s Church and we got clothes and blankets.”
They finally moved into an apartment for rent when Tricia was 6 years old.
One year later, her father kidnapped her and her siblings and took them back to Mexico.
Her mother traveled south to retrieve them and paid a coyote — a human smuggler — to bring them back into the U.S.
They returned to the same routine of moving around for a couple months until her mother could afford to rent an apartment again.
As a teenager, Tricia couldn’t get her driver’s license while her friends started to drive.
It wasn’t until she wanted to register to vote with her classmates that her mother told her she was not a citizen.
The impact of DACA
As Tricia neared high school graduation, she became anxious about moving on to college like her friends — until the DACA program was introduced.
Tricia lives in Mentor while attending a community college as an undecided major.
However, she plans on declaring her major in criminal justice to give back to the United States. She works as a supervisor at a retail store to pay for tuition, because DACA recipients don’t qualify for financial aid.
“I would rather pay tuition, even if I did qualify for FAFSA, just to prove to others the type of people [DACA recipients] are,” says Tricia.
Tricia was skeptical about putting her name into a system but decided to take advantage of DACA when she saw others weren’t getting deported.
Although the program cut provides uncertainty for Tricia’s future, she is not resentful.
“I don’t blame the country. I don’t blame Trump,” she says. “I just want to raise awareness and make changes.”
A DACA recipient’s contribution to society
Claudia Garcia is a Kent State Student Outreach Specialist who worked with DACA students at the University of Texas at El Paso.
“What I’ve seen in these students is their love for the United States … They love their country. They want to support their country. They want to contribute to society.”
Garcia believes if nothing is done in Congress and DACA recipients get deported, change will show in the culture of the communities they’re leaving.
“I think we’re definitely going to be missing an input from a different perspective. I think that’s what makes any university great, the diversity of its student population,” says Garcia. “The voices of [DACA recipients] contribute to the growth at the university.”
As an immigrant herself with permanent residency, she wanted to clear misconceptions about DACA recipients.
Garcia says some of the stereotypes she hears are that they are “lazy,” “criminals,” “poor, unpatriotic and don’t speak English.
She believes many are unaware DACA recipients are only eligible if they do not have felonies or serious misdemeanors on their record. She also emphasizes that they do pay taxes, are ineligible for most forms of welfare, and must work hard to pay their full tuition upfront.
“What I’ve seen in these students is their love for the United States” says Garcia. “They love their country. They want to support their country. They want to contribute to society.”
Tricia was inspired to attend college and contribute to American society by her sister, who is a citizen serving in the U.S. Military in Germany. DACA makes it possible for her to work and afford college, and now she constantly worries if that goal is still attainable.
Raising awareness; making changes
On top of the responsibilities of a regular college student, Tricia helps run a social media circle to support and help create change for DACA recipients. She has found that the more awareness she raises, the more support she receives.
The group put on a peaceful rally in downtown Painesville Sept. 13 with a diverse mix of recipients and supporters. The rally attracted media including Cleveland 19 News and The News-Herald, and around 200 attendees, according to signed petitions.
At the end of the rally, DACA recipients in attendance stood before the crowd of supporters. Tricia says people came up to them to offer their help, and a mix of people expressed interest in their next meeting.
“I’m hoping for more support and [DACA recipients] to come out and help us fight for this,” Tricia says.
Tricia’s professors understand her current situation and asked her to share with her classmates what DACA truly is.
“I’ve been talking to some of my friends and they were like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were a part of that. I didn’t even know what it is — Can you explain it?’ ” she says.
Garcia feels a supportive and accepting environment at Kent State just as Tricia does in Painesville. She moved from a predominantly Hispanic community in Texas to Northeast Ohio in January, unsure of how accepted she would be.
“It’s been such a great environment just knowing that [Beverly Warren] has a lot of initiatives for diversity. It makes me feel part of the community,” says Garcia.
Kent State President Warren sent a university-wide email responding to the DACA decision, stating that Kent State supports DACA students. Warren writes that she joined with presidents of all state universities in Ohio to call on Congress to find a permanent solution for students to continue their education.
The goals of Warren and other university presidents may be possible. There are already four bills currently in Congress similar to DACA which may be even more generous with a path to citizenship, according to Daniel Hawes, a Kent State political science professor with a background in immigration policy.
“This could lead to something actually better than the executive order that was signed,” Hawes says of DACA being easily undoable. “If it’s a piece of actual legislation, that’s much harder to undo.”
Along with the possible changes in Congress, the support Tricia receives throughout her community keeps her positive about the future.
“I just want people to understand and talk to these people going through this and help them,” says Tricia. “I feel like there’s still a hope for change.”
Marissa Nichols is the diversity and religion reporter for The Burr Magazine, contact her at email@example.com.