DACA youth thankful for program’s opportunities, but worries remain

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Humberto Marquez, 22, who came to the United States when he was about 6 years old from Jalisco, Mexico, grew up in Waldron, attending St. Jude Thaddeus Church. Marquez credits his work in youth ministry as his “first taste of community organizing.”

After graduating from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith with a bachelor’s in business administration and international business, he was hired as the west Arkansas organizer for the Arkansas United Community Coalition, where the mission is to “empower Arkansas immigrants and their communities through organizing, coalition building and the promotion of civic engagement.”

“As an immigrant myself, I feel very proud, but at the same time I’m very determined and very aware of what can happen if anti-immigrant policies were to pass,” he said of his social justice work.

Marquez has benefited from the DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was created in 2012 by President Barack Obama through executive order. It has allowed certain protections for immigrants who were brought to the U.S. without legal permission when they were younger than 16 and who were age 31 or younger as of June 15, 2012.

“I’m grateful for DACA, but at the same time, I don’t feel liberated because my family is still living in the shadows,” Marquez told the Arkansas Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock. “This is the reality that many families face nationwide.”

While the DACA program is positive for many child immigrants, it still leaves many with a sense of separation in society.

And since September, the program has been in peril. President Donald Trump announced DACA would end in March and he called on Congress to pass a measure to keep it in place.

Advocates around the country have rallied to urge passage of the DREAM Act — the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — to provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA beneficiaries. They are urging a “clean” bill, with no amendments that would provide funding for a border wall or other immigration restrictions.

Sofia, a 22-year-old Little Rock resident, who asked that her real name not be used, said she is grateful for DACA and the benefits, but said the label is tough.

“You grow up your whole life here, learn the language, live the culture and this is the home you know only to realize this home doesn’t classify you as one of them. So being DACA to me is something I’m thankful for, but it’s also a reminder of what I’m not,” she said.

“(I’m) DACA, but yet I still have to pay out-of-state tuition. DACA, but I’m still considered an ‘alien.’ DACA, but I don’t qualify for financial help,” she added. “At this point in my college career, I wouldn’t even be asking for a scholarship, but fairness.

“I’ve been here since first grade and I still pay out-of-state tuition … So if college wasn’t expensive enough, let’s double it and then not help you in any way,” said Sofia. “I’m thankful for the benefits that have come from it, but I also hate to see how much of a label it is.”

Despite excelling in high school and being encouraged to fill out financial aid and government-based scholarship applications — DACA recipients can only receive privately funded scholarships — Maria, who also asked that her real name not be published, was faced with rejection when she couldn’t provide a Social Security number.

It’s like being told “we are more than happy to give you all of this money because of your academics. It’s all right there in front of you but because of nine digits you can’t” get the financial help, she said.