Korina Iribe was just a kid when she realized what it meant to be an undocumented immigrant living in the United States.
She was in fourth grade, a self-described “nerd,” happily a part of the elementary school science club in Phoenix.
She sold Rice Krispie treats from sun-up to sundown in her neighborhood to fund a field trip to San Diego with her peers.
When her group reached its monetary goal, she expected to make the trip. But when she told her mom about the forthcoming trip, she was surprised by her response.
“It’s really hard to grow up undocumented,” Iribe said. “As a child, the number one thing was constantly having that feeling of having that fear that you can be deported. You try to stay low. You don’t travel. You don’t do a lot of other things. When I turned 15, for example, I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t get a job. I could apply for a college, but I was ineligible for any kind of scholarship. There were a lot of barriers.”
Tuesday marked the ninth anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that President Barack Obama created via executive action on June 15, 2012.
DACA protects around 800,000 children under the age of 16 — known as “dreamers” — who migrated to the United States without authorization as children. Unlike the Dream Act, which never passed Congress, the DACA program does not grant them permanent legal status or provide a pathway to citizenship, although it does allow “dreamers” to apply for a driver’s license, Social Security number and work permit.
From the time it was introduced, the DACA program has been embroiled in political controversy. Some argue that, at some point, DACA should lead to “dreamers” gaining permanent legal status or a pathway to citizenship and they continue to press Congress to act. Others believe it should be eliminated.
President Donald Trump tried to end the DACA program in 2017, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that his order was unlawful and ordered the Trump administration to re-enact the DACA program in 2019.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen has heard several arguments to end the DACA program in a still-pending legal challenge.
But with the DACA program still in place, many “dreamers” are still feeling the impact, which they described as both positive and negative. Others described challenges they still face.
Iribe’s family moved from Nogales, Mexico, to the United States when she was seven years old. When her mom brought Iribe and her sister to Phoenix on tourist visas, which expire after about a year, she knew they were staying permanently.
Life at home was, as Iribe put it, “violent”; her father was abusive, she said.
“My mother was unable to afford rent and food as a single mother,” Iribe said. “So we moved to the United States.”
Iribe lived in fear of being deported until she received DACA documentation in 2012, the year Obama put it in place.
Now, Iribe, 31, is the Arizona state adviser for the Movement Voter Project, a progressive group. Iribe started working in the immigration rights movement in 2010 after Senate Bill 1070 — an Arizona law passed in 2010 which allows officers to ask citizens for documentation given reasonable suspicion — was signed into law by then-Gov. Jan Brewer.
“I do this work because it affects me and my friends and, ultimately, my future,” Iribe said in a text.
‘DACA allows me to go and live as much like a normal citizen as I can’
In February 2020, Daniel Hernandez was sitting in the passenger seat as his best friend drove him to a high school championship game in Chandler.
The sun was setting, which meant, according to Arizona law, they were required to turn on their front car lights. But they did not do so.
Suddenly, a highway patrol officer pulled them over. Aware of SB 1070, Hernandez, who was an undocumented immigrant at the time, was on the verge of a “panic attack.”
“I was starting to hyperventilate,” Hernandez said. “At that moment, I was like, ‘this could be the final stretch for me. This could be the day that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. You don’t understand how that feels until you’re in that situation. It feels like a moment of life and death. I felt my heart sink.”
“So, you live in this fear for a lot of your life because you don’t know what could happen to you or your loved ones,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez and his family migrated from Guatemala to the United States because family members living in the United States said education was better than in Guatemala. So they took a plane to Mexico City, and from there, they traveled north in Mexico. A family friend picked up Hernandez, and they passed through a checkpoint in Puerto Peñasco.
After initially being denied DACA status in 2019, Hernandez submitted his DACA information in December 2020. A federal judge from Brooklyn ruled that same month applicants were wrongly being denied DACA status under the Trump administration.
“I didn’t want to live in that fear, that’s why I submitted the DACA information,” Hernandez said. “DACA allows me to go and live as much like a normal citizen as I can.”
Hernandez is 19, on a full-ride scholarship at Grand Canyon University, which he received from DREAM.US, which provides scholarships to “highly motivated DREAMers who want nothing more than to get a college education but are unable to afford the cost.”
Hernandez is the business communication manager with the Arizona coalition, where he manages social media and marketing.
“Not only does (undocumented status) affect your life, but it affects your mental and emotional health because you’re traumatized to a certain degree that if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, something bad can happen to you and your loved ones,” Hernandez said. “Your whole life can be uprooted in an instant, in a flash due to a lot of Arizona laws.
“But at the end of the day, I am undocumented, unafraid, and I am here with my organization, and with several organizations in the state and the country trying to be the solution to a long, overdue problem,” Hernandez added.
DACA ‘has really changed my life,’ participant says
Josue Andonaegui was seven years old when he crossed the Mexico-United States border.
He was sitting in a car with other children. He was separated from his parents, who crossed the Rio Grande River.
He was the only child who did not have U.S. citizenship, but because this was 2000, before the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., that precipitated increased border security, border agents only asked the adults for proof of documentation.
After he graduated high school in 2012, DACA was implemented.
“For me, it was such a great relief to know that, out of high school, I was going to be able to stay here legally, and have a job,” Andonaegui said.
Even then, Andonaegui was unable to pay for a college education in America. State tuition was three times more expensive for “dreamers” than for U.S. citizens. He graduated from UTEL — an online school located in Mexico — with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Since graduating college, he has risen through the ranks quickly. In one year, he has been promoted from organizing coordinator to state director to national director of PoderLatinX.
According to its website, PoderLatinX is committed to “building a national political wave where Latinx communities, immigrants, and people of color are decision-makers for an inclusive democracy.”
“DACA has really changed my life,” Andonaegui said. “So, for me, to be able to get DACA in the year I graduated was such a privilege, and it really changed my perspective in life and I owe it to that, right? Today, I have pushed myself so hard to where I am at. I can’t let this opportunity go.”
As national director for PoderLatinX, Andonaegui said he is motivated by his community.
“Seeing young people who no longer qualify for DACA, I want them to have the same opportunity that I’ve had, to be able to go college, to follow their dreams, and fulfill their aspirations that they have, that’s what keeps me moving,” Andonaegui said.
Before DACA, Andonaegui was willing to work a variety of blue-collar jobs.
“When you are in that situation, you don’t really have a plan,” Andonaegui said. “You have to live day-by-day. And, in that moment, I was ready to take any job that was offered to me. That would pay me under-the-table, whether it was, you know, construction work, landscaping, restaurant, anything that would allow me to work and get paid. That was the survival mode that most immigrants that live in this country who are undocumented.”
Andonaegui hasn’t been able to see his extended family who all live in Mexico in more than two decades. He was planning to leave using the “exceptional reasons” clause last year, but with the DACA program paused for almost two years, he was unable to do so.
With a New York district court recently reinstating “advanced parole” for DACA participants, Andonaegui is planning to visit his grandfather, who has terminal cancer.
“I want to go say my goodbyes before he passes away. He’s my last grandparent alive — both my other grandparents have died and I want to go pay my respects,” Andonaegui said. “So, I’m really hoping that this time, I am able to say goodbye to him in person.”
In-state tuition: Arizona voters to decide eligibility for Dreamers
Not everyone qualifies for DACA
Not everyone qualifies for DACA.
Javier Peña, 36, originally from Michoacán, entered the United States when he was 17.
His application for DACA was rejected because one of the requirements for the program is to have entered the country before he was 16 years old.
However, his daughter Daniela Peña, who entered the country with them when she was 3 years old, was able to apply for DACA.
“I feel happy and proud of my daughter, with DACA, the doors have opened for her, she does not suffer as we (he and his wife) have suffered, being rejected in some places because we are undocumented,” he said.
His daughter Daniela, 21, has already finished high school. She plans to study to become a nursing assistant and works for a company that makes illuminated signs for stores and restaurants.
Peña and his wife live in Phoenix and paint houses for a living.
“We are hopeful that immigration reform will soon be passed. Daniela’s dream is to go to Michoacán to meet her grandmother, who is already very old. Hopefully, she will be able to do so soon.”
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