By Francisco Lasso
Two weeks ago, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a bill that would offer young people like me —Americans in every way except for the papers— a road map to becoming a citizens.
The bill comes on the heels of a House proposal that would provide a path to citizenship for immigrant youth, individuals with temporary protected status (TPS) and some for whom deportation has been deferred (known as DED holders.)
With these twin efforts, I wonder: will this time be it? Will I finally get the chance to plan for my future, to save for a house, to go to college?
For so long, my life in the United States has held out the extraordinary hope of achieving my dreams, too often coupled with seeing those hopes dashed.
I was 10 years old when my family left Ecuador to settle in northern Virginia with the promise of an education for me.
I grew up here, a product of the Commonwealth of Virginia schools. Education was my family’s guarantee to a better and brighter future.
But after I graduated high school, my life in limbo began in earnest. I was undocumented and because of my status, I couldn’t attend college.
Then in 2012, President Obama launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, in order to provide reprieve from deportation to young people who came to the United States as children. That same year, I became a DACA recipient.
But I still couldn’t afford college because DACA recipients in Virginia were not eligible for in-state tuition. In 2014, Virginia’s attorney general Mark Herring ruled that Dreamers like me were eligible for in-state tuition. That fall and for the next two years, I was able to attend the local community college, working toward a certificate in business administration. While I paid in-state tuition, I wasn’t eligible for financial aid because of my status.
But I was finally in college. I was on my way.
After two years, I had enough credits to transfer to a four-year state university. Because I have a vision disability, I sought financial help from the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, which offered a program to help young people with vision disabilities pay for college. The department offered me aid during my first year at the university in 2016. The second year, the department required all applicants to first apply for financial aid through the school and then they would determine how much aid to give based on how much aid the school offered. To my surprise, when I applied, the university gave me a $10,000 aid package, which meant the department would not offer any additional grants.
Last year, my upswing came to a crashing halt when the school conducted an audit of the aid they provided and determined I was ineligible because of my status. They revoked the aid and told me I owed the school $10,000. I couldn’t afford it and I talked with a school financial aid officer to plead my case. After all, the school knew my DACA status; I’d provided them all of my documentation. The school reduced the amount I owed to $6,000 but I still can’t afford it.
It feels as if every time I take a step forward, I’m pushed back two more. And I know life will continue this way for me and the more than 800,000 other DACA recipients. We are as American as Old Glory, attending American schools, watching American television and growing up on American food. But our lives are lived in uncertainty, always struggling to plan and work and see a brighter future ahead, yet never getting a firm grasp on it.
The House and Senate bills would change that. It would grant Dreamers conditional resident status for 10 years if they’ve been continuously in the country for four years before the bill’s enactment date; were no more than 17 years old when they came the U.S.; graduate from high school and pass security and law enforcement background checks. It would allow Dreamers to access federal financial aid and revoke a harmful law that penalizes states that grant in-state tuition to undocumented students based on residency.
The bills are a step in the right direction. They give me and millions of immigrants and refugees who have made this country their home, hope.
These bills put forward solutions for permanent protections without the harmful enforcement policies that the Trump administration has used to separate families. I know too many families in my community who live in the continued uncertainty about whether or not they will be able to remain in the United States and with their loved ones.
Many of us live from court decision to court decision on whether DACA or TPS will expire. And it is untenable.
Voters are on our side. Public polling shows that there is overwhelming support for undocumented youth. Last election cycle led to the most progressive House of Representatives in history because people want change. Donald Trump’s divisiveness and his hateful rhetoric has inspired an entire electorate.
These immigration bills are a reflection of that change. The House bill, which will likely pass its chamber, and Senate bills will eventually end up before a Senate body that will need to show the political courage it has not shown so far to pass immigration reform.
It is clear to me that we can’t stop fighting until we have protections and permanent legislative solutions for all who need them. It is the only way to climb out of the shifting sands so many of us live in to stand firmly on solid ground.
Francisco Lasso is a DACA-recipient, local entrepreneur and a member of immigration rights organization CASA in Action, which is part of the FIRM Action network of more than 40 immigrant rights groups.
May God touch the republican’s senator heart to pass the bill ,I have been dreaming for years to get permanent resident to help my family in Haiti to come into the us and also get the opportunity to have better education.Please house senate could you pass the bill?
THE FUTURE OF DACA
For the present,
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
remains in effect for all who were approved
before it was ‘ended’ in September 2017.
And these young foreign nationals
can continue to RENEW their deferments
for two years at a time.
Various court cases (pro & con)
are still in the works.
So some changes might come from the courts.
Also, the current administration
COULD bring DACA to an ORDERLY END.
The way the termination was attempted
in September of 2017
was ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS.
This administrative order violated
the Administrative Procedures Act:
No notice or public discussion
preceded the abrupt cancellation.
(Court orders have already restored
the right to RENEW one’s DACA status.)
An orderly and lawful way to bring DACA to an end
might involve a ONE-YEAR GRACE PERIOD,
during which NEW APPLICATIONS
would be received and processed
following the original rules and requirements.
Such an orderly ending of DACA
would allow several thousand
additional foreign young adults
to register themselves for DACA.
New DACA recipients would also have
two-year periods of immunity from deportation
—unless criminal behavior ends their deferments.
Then the total number of young foreign nationals
registered for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
would be over ONE MILLION.
And each of these deferred deportations
would have a specific expiration date
—up to two years in the future.
Executive orders cannot establish
any permanent legal status for DACA recipients.
But the announcement of an orderly ending of DACA
would give the Congress about two years
to create a new LAW offering some permanent status
to foreign young adults already registered for DACA.
Current law allows only limited ways
for DACA recipients to become Lawful Permanent Residents
—and later American citizens.
One example would be marrying an American citizen.
These pathways should be EXPANDED
so that DACA people could EARN American citizenship.
The new law to create a permanent replacement for DACA
will include some reasonable new ways
for DACA recipients to gain permanent status
—probably leading to U.S. citizenship.
The following link offers some common-sense steps
toward becoming citizens of the United States.
Even before any new pathway becomes law,
it makes good sense to IMPROVE ONE’S CHANCES
by fulfilling these goals:
Lawsuits for and against DACA have been filed.
These might ultimately be settled by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court will probably find
that DACA was a lawful exercise of prosecutor discretion:
The Department of Homeland Security
CAN decide which foreigners to deport next
—which includes the power to DEFER deportation.
The Supreme Court will probably also rule
that the original way DACA was ‘ended’ (Sept. 2017)
was ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS.
Therefore, if any administration
still wishes to terminate DACA,
it will have to follow reasonable procedures,
as suggested above:
Publish a proposal for changing the rules,
receive and respond to public comments,
and, when finalized, give everyone
plenty of time to adjust to the new rules.
If the administration issues a new executive order
to terminate DACA in a reasonable way
—perhaps giving a grace period for new applicants—
this will put the focus back on the Congress
to create a permanent replacement for DACA.
A new law of naturalization to replace DACA
will probably include the following 8 features: