Guest Piece by Isaac Verhelst, (’20)
Although my experience with DACA is first-hand, I am not a DACA recipient, nor is anyone else in my family. Instead, my experience stems from volunteering with the Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center. Every Wednesday SWIRC holds a free legal clinic in the Mexicantown neighborhood of Detroit. Through the clinic, I have gotten the opportunity to not only meet and interact with DACA recipients but also prepare a few DACA applications. As a result, I have become acquainted with the process.
I can say with confidence that DACA is not the free pass for illegal immigrants that I have heard it be called.
DACA is a program created as the result of an executive order issued under President Barack Obama in 2012. The program is for those young Americans who were brought to this country without documents as children. Recipients of DACA must have arrived to the United States by June 15, 2007, have been in continuous residence from that day forward and under 31 by June 15, 2012.
In order to prove that they have been living in the United States since June 2007, individiuals are required to bring in copious amounts of documents, including but not limited to report cards, religious documents, money orders and leases. Essentially, if it has a date, it is used as evidence. This need for massive amounts of evidence resulted in applicants sending in 20 to 30 copied pages of supporting documents.
However, not just anyone can apply to receive DACA. In addition to those requirements, applicants with felonies, significant misdemeanors (such as misdemeanor assault) or three or more misdemeanors cannot be admitted. This means they have nearly spotless records; the only infractions I’ve seen have been traffic tickets. In fact, in the six cases I am most familiar with, I believe one individual had two traffic tickets. That was it. The other five records were completely spotless. All six of these individuals now have DACA.
In addition to a clean criminal record, DACA applicants must either be in school, have graduated with their high school diploma or GED or be a member of the U.S. military.
These are not the criminals that pundits warn you about. DACA recipients are upstanding citizens. I am more of a criminal than most DACA recipients (I have received one traffic ticket). They are not uneducated and lazy welfare queens considering 91 percent of DACA recipients are in the workforce, and many have college degrees.
To say that DACA recipients take advantage of welfare is a gross and insidious lie. They have no access to the social safety net. Even with their DACA status, they are ineligible for federal loans, Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps) and Social Security benefits. They do receive the ability to work and get a driver’s license, but those are by no means mooching off of the system. In fact, DACA recipients do not truly have a path to citizenship. They have to renew their status every two years at the cost of $500.
What do I see when I look at a DACA recipient? I see kids who came to this country very young. Some of them didn’t even speak English when they first came here. Nevertheless, they persevered. They may not have been in the best economic conditions, but their parents made the best of it, working themselves to the bone to provide for their families. They followed all of society’s points of wisdom. They stayed in school, often excelling. Some went off to work, going into skilled trades. Others heard the call to arms and joined our nation’s Armed Forces. Others still went off to college. Those that chose college dealt with the burden of being ineligible for federal student loans that they otherwise likely would have qualified for.
They came into this nation clutching the hands of their parents, but now their hands hold briefcases, hammers and military gear. If that is not living up to the American dream, I have no idea what the American dream is. And if anyone is a candidate for Making America Great right now, I would say it is the 800,000 DACA recipients.
So what happens with DACA recipients now? Well, those up for renewal still have a little bit of time. Luckily, we have six months for Congress to take some action. If we fail to do this, however, then those DACA students who attend Albion will go to class with the constant, biting fear that any particular day could see them detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). We should not sit back while our fellow students have to live with this specter.
In short, DACA recipients are, in the realest sense, dreamers. They have come here with nothing, and now they have something, all without a government safety net. They are truly America: they are our soldiers, our accountants, our HVAC technicians, our mechanics and even our classmates.
For those who would argue against this, I would say this: Talk to someone about DACA. Talk to me, talk to someone you know who has DACA, or even just read testimonies of DREAMers (a term used to refer to children brought to the United States at a young age). And for those who have been moved and to those who already stood with DACAmented people, standing is not enough. Action is required. Call your Congresspeople, your governors, your mayors. Speak out for those who cannot emerge for fear of retribution.
If anyone is concerned and would want legal consultation, email Isaac at firstname.lastname@example.org.