Santiago Mueckay as a child. Photo courtesy of Santiago’s mom.
On June 18, the Supreme Court ruled that the administration’s attempt at ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was not lawful. In fact, the Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 vote that that “DHS’s decision to rescind DACA was arbitrary and capricious” and therefore DACA could remain in place. The decision came almost exactly 8 years after President Obama created DACA through an executive branch memorandum, which was seen as a major victory for advocacy groups and Dreamers.
Most people already know about DACA and Dreamers, or at least have heard of the program. However, I am here to tell you about my personal experience with the program, and to explain how hundreds of thousands of American children could be separated from their families if DACA is dismantled in the future.
My family came to the U.S. when I was 9 years old. We had a visitor visa and we reached out to a lawyer to change our status to permanent residents. However, the “lawyer” we hired took our money, submitted an inaccurate application, and we never heard from him again. We ended up overstaying our visitor visa and stayed in the country illegally. As a kid, I had no idea what any of that meant – I was still struggling to learn English and getting used to a new way of life.
Life was difficult for my family since my parents couldn’t find stable jobs. However, they gave me all of the tools I needed to succeed. I went to a great high school, and when it came time to apply for colleges, I realized I could only apply to a handful that would accept me without legal documents. I was privileged enough to live in a city that had an incredible public university system, allowing me to follow my dreams.
In 2012, President Obama introduced DACA and through the program, I was able to get a Social Security number and begin working and paying taxes. My parents went back to Ecuador while I was in college and they asked me to move back with them. Since they had overstayed their visas, they were not allowed to come back to the U.S. for 10 years. I knew that not going back with them meant not seeing them or my little brother for at least a decade, but I knew my life and my future were here.
I stayed back, rented a tiny room, kept working while going to school and graduated with honors. Years later, I was able to fix my immigration status, attend and graduate from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and continue fighting for immigrant and children’s rights.
Through no fault or choice of my own, I became undocumented. DACA allowed me to get away from the constant fear of deportation, it allowed me to go visit my family for the first time after 10 years and it allowed me to work and finish my studies. I wouldn’t be in the position I am in today without DACA.
I am 29 years old and even though I do not have any kids of my own, many DACA recipients do. A study conducted by Tom Wong of the University of California at San Diego along with the Center for American Progress, National Immigration Law Center, and United We Dream “found that 25.7% of DACA recipients have a child who is a U.S. citizen.” Imagine being told you are being deported from the only country you ever knew and you have to say goodbye to your children. Unfortunately, if DACA protections are not made permanent through legislation, that is a future hundreds of thousands of people will have to face.
Here at SCAN, we have advocated against family separations from the start. We know that family separation has many negative impacts on children’s development and that it “makes children susceptible to acute and chronic conditions such as extreme anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, hypertension and heart disease.”
Deporting the parents of U.S. citizen children and permanently separating them—particularly when those parents were brought to the country as children—is unjust and inhumane.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court decision is only a temporary fix. The Trump administration has already stated that they will attempt to dismantle the program again, this time doing it correctly.
DACA is one of the few immigration-related issues with consistent and broad bipartisan support. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 74% of Americans “favor a law that would provide permanent legal status to immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children,” while a Politico poll conducted right before the SCOTUS decision showed that 68% of Republicans want to protect Dreamers from deportation. It should not be complicated to resolve—and the children of DACA recipients should not be living in fear that their parents could be removed at a moment’s notice.
We must ask Congress to protect Dreamers and their families by making DACA protections permanent. Luckily, there is legislation that can do this! The Dream and Promise Act (H.R.6) has already passed the House, now it’s up to Mitch McConnell to bring it to the Senate floor for a vote. We must push our Senators to stop using Dreamers as bargaining chips and think of the hundreds of thousands of American children who could be affected by their inaction.