By Roberto Lopez
It is September 12. Today I helped 21-year-old José, who had crossed illegally into Texas from Mexico with his family at age five, renew a request that the U.S. government delay his deportation and allow him to continue to work.
For the third time in five years, José is requesting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy ordered in 2012 by then-U.S. President Barack Obama, so that he can continue living and working in the United States for another two years without fear of deportation.
Each time he has paid the filing fee — now $495 — shared personal information including addresses, income and assets with a complete stranger, and endured the tedium of government bureaucracy.
On one of the 18 pages in the renewal application, José wrote:
“I want this permission to continue my education and to work so I can have a better life. This permit has been so helpful for me and my family. I have been working hard and following laws.”
I read this after he had left the office, and the words pained me. This could be Jose’s last renewal.
DACA recipients actually boost the economy.
Earlier this month, the Trump Administration announced that DACA would be shut down in six months. Announcing the decision, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said DACA was unconstitutional and had contributed to a surge of unaccompanied children crossing illegally into the United States, taken away jobs from Americans and undermined the rule of law.
A number of news organizations checked Session’s assertions and concluded they were inaccurate. Research by liberal, conservative and non-partisan groups has shown that immigrants covered by DACA actually boost the economy.
Instead, the Trump Administration’s efforts to “make America great again” risk disrupting student education, hamstringing the U.S. workforce and tearing families apart.
For me, the day the Administration announced the phase-out of DACA was somber.
At 10 a.m., the six-month dissolution of DACA began. Some 15 minutes later, I was with my boss, a Yale law graduate who now is a civil rights attorney, at a rally outside a state government building organized by La Union del Pueblo Entero, an immigrant advocacy organization.
The organizers, dressed in red tee shirts and holding white signs, were upset and worried for the future. They announced plans for DACA clinics, more rallies and lobbying to win legislation to continue shielding DACA recipients. My boss moved about, consoling community members, answering questions and proclaiming, “Hay esperanza.” There is hope.
Heroes, not hermits, won the day on the beaches of Normandy.
But how much hope? A former math teacher, I have counted that there are 174 days until next March 5 when DACA permits begin to expire. Unless Congress steps in. 174 days of hope, but also 174 days to act.
It appears that not only the 50 United States, but the entire world, is facing a crisis of conscience. Amid tragedies around the world — think Syria, Sudan or Venezuela — anti-immigrant rhetoric or violence towards refugees would seem evidence that we would rather wall ourselves up than extend grace.
But history tells us that heroes, not hermits, won the day on the beaches of Normandy in World War Two, that the courageous withstood rising tides of hate and indifference.
The DACA rescission is not unique, either in space or time. We the people establish the U.S. government, which transcends this one administration.
Hay esperanza. There is hope.
Roberto Lopez is a former pre-calculus teacher in San Benito, Texas. Currently he is volunteering at a South Texas-based civil rights organization, while tackling side-jobs, working on a potential community-building non-profit and studying for the law school entrance exams.