Five Years Later, DREAMers and Advocates Must Continue to Protect the DACA Program

Originally published here.

Last year I traveled to Washington D.C. and met with Senator Richard Durbin, the senior Senator from Illinois, to discuss immigration, higher education, and other issues that are vitally important to people that, like me, are part of the immigrant community.

It was summer, and the sun beamed over Capitol Hill. With a blue folder in hand and in the company of a few friends, I made my way through the Capitol building in hopes of sharing my immigration story with Senator Durbin once again. While not my state’s Senator, Sen. Durbin fought tirelessly to give us, the youth known as DREAMers, hope that there was a place for us in the great country.

Senator Durbin greeted us with his token smile and asked what brought me to his office. And so, I began telling him about how much I had admired his leadership and efforts to highlight the struggles that DREAMers face across the United States.

“I know that the DREAM Act has yet to pass through Congress,” I told Senator Durbin, “but I wanted to let you know that the DACA program has helped me reach my goals. Just last year, I finished my Masters in Public Administration from Florida State University, and today I have a job about which I feel proud. This program, although temporary, has given me, my brothers, and thousands of young people the opportunity to contribute to our country — and for that I thank you. Thank you for supporting DACA and thank you for advocating on behalf of DREAMers.”

I reached into the small blue folder that I carried into the meeting and retrieved two large pieces of paper that I handed to Senator Durbin.

“I wanted to give you these,” I said. “They are copies of my Bachelors and Masters degrees. I would not have been able to complete them had it not been for my deep belief and support in legislation like the DREAM Act or programs like DACA. So, on behalf of my family and I, I wanted to thank you for keeping my hopes and dreams alive.”

Senator Durbin looked at my degrees, thanked me for sharing my story, and promised to keep fighting on behalf of DREAMers as long as he was in Congress. Our meeting concluded, and I departed his office feeling hopeful about my future under the DACA program.

Senator Durbin (D-IL) listens to my immigration story during a meeting in his Washington D.C. office during the summer of 2015

Of course, this was all before Donald Trump was elected president.

On election night, upon seeing the results, I sped home and cried throughout the night — uncertain of what would happen to my family, my friends, or all of the immigrant families who I had helped throughout the years.

Donald Trump’s stance on immigration was clear from the moment he launched his presidential campaign — build a wall along the border with Mexico, cancel the DACA program, and levy a Deportation Force that would deport as many immigrants as possible.

Although the border wall remains a largely unfunded mandate by the Trump Administration and the DACA program continues to stand, the chilling and damaging effect of Trump’s Deportation Force have sent shockwaves throughout the country.

Various sectors across the United States, including agriculture and tourism, are already feeling the strains of Donald Trump’s xenophobic agenda, while millions of immigrant families are currently living in fear of being torn apart by Trump’s “unshackled” immigration enforcement officers.

My parents, for example, could be taken from me if they were caught driving without a driver’s license, and, despite staying out of trouble with the law and paying their taxes, they could be sent back to a country that is currently experiencing extreme political and economic unrest.

Yes, I spent the first couple of months of the Trump Administration in fear that the DACA program could be terminated the next day, or the day after that, or the week after that. But today, on the fifth anniversary of the DACA program, I remain committed to fighting for my undocumented community more than ever before.

The challenges that immigrants will face under the Trump Administration will not be easy, but we cannot allow ourselves to sit down and give up. We didn’t win DACA or local pro-migrant policies at the state and local level by cowering in fear; we won them by standing up for what was right and just, for the hard work that immigrants, from all backgrounds, continue to do all across the country we call our home.

Let DACA’s fifth anniversary serve as a reminder of what the program has allowed DREAMers like me accomplish, and what it will do for thousands of young immigrants who are currently in school studying to become the next lawyer, doctor, or entrepreneur that our country needs to become stronger.

For the immigrants and DREAMers reading this, please don’t give up. Your anxiety and fears are valid, but we cannot let them obstruct us from fighting for the opportunity to reach our full potential and honor the sacrifices that our parents made to give us a shot at the American Dream.

To the allies, friends, and advocates, my words to you are thank you. You all have provided the support necessary that has allowed so many DREAMers believe in themselves and keep on fighting regardless of the odds. I remember you all every time I see my college degrees and every time I go to work. But above all, I remember you all every time I doubt my ability to keep fighting. And for that, I thank you on this fifth DACA anniversary.

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Follow Juan Escalante at @juansaaa.

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