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Local DACA recipients live with fear and uncertainty

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The fate of undocumented people brought to the United States by their parents remains uncertain.

Several ongoing court cases have put the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) at risk. President Barack Obama enacted the program in 2012 as a temporary fix while Congress worked on a permanent immigration solution.

DACA gives undocumented people who were brought to the United States as children by their parents a way to legally work and it temporarily protects them from deportation. Protections are granted in two-year intervals and recipients must reapply to keep the status active.

When President Donald Trump took office, he nixed the entire program in an effort to force Congress to address the problem. A court ruling forced the government to immediately begin accepting renewals but it did not allow for new applications. Ongoing court cases have left the future of the program uncertain. Opponents want to put an end to the program and supporters want to see it fully reinstated.

DACA recipients, who are often referred to as DREAMers, had to be at least 15 but younger than 31 as of June 15, 2012, and under the age of 16 when they came to the United States. Enrollment and or graduation from high school or an honorable discharge from the military was also required.

They could have no felonies or significant misdemeanors, and those who had not lived in the United States continuously since 2007 were not eligible.

Approximately 822,000 people have qualified for DACA since the program started, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

But who are these DREAMers? Where do they work and live? How did they get here? The Journal talked to four of them.

Undocumented Albuquerque residents Adriana Rodriguez, 28, and Victor Nevarez, 19, are fighting to stay in the United States, but their future is uncertain. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Adriana Rodriguez, 28; Came from: Tijuana, Mexico; Age arrived: 10

Highland High School graduate Adriana Rodriguez spends most of her nights working in a hosptial emergency room registering incoming patients. It’s a job she was able to get after receiving her DACA status in 2013.

Rodriguez was among the first wave of DREAMers to apply for DACA when the Obama administration put the measure in place. Before her hospital job, Rodriguez mostly worked restaurant jobs.

“Honestly it (DACA) also helped me feel safe,” she said. “If I do something wrong and something happens, like getting pulled over for a traffic ticket, it could have changed the course of my life.”

Rodriguez’s mom brought her to New Mexico on a tourist visa in search of a better job. Her uncle was a permanent resident of the United States and told her mom she might be able to find work here.

“My mom lost her factory job in Mexico,” she said. “She had three kids to support so she jumped in the car and came to the states. We overstayed our permit.”

Her DACA status will expire in 2021. She said she’s frustrated by the current political climate and feels her future is in the hands of people she doesn’t even know.

“It’s hard not to have anxiety thinking ‘When are they going to come get me?'” she said. “If I could tell the government anything, it’s that it’s not wrong for them to want to protect the citizens of the states. But we are not bad people. We were brought here. We did not ask for this.”

Victor Nevarez, 19; Came from: Obregón, Sonora, Mexico; Age arrived: 7

Victor Nevarez is always on high alert. His parents brought him to the United States from Mexico using work visas when Nevarez was in elementary school. The visas expired long ago, leaving him and his family in the country without proper documentation.

It’s a situation, he said, that has put him at risk. As a result, he tries to blend in and avoid doing anything that might bring him to the attention of the authorities.

“I’ve never given the cops a reason to stop me (while driving),” he said. “I don’t want to stand out. Maybe I’ll get a cop that’s racist. If something happened to me, my family would be devastated. And I don’t want to put them in danger.”

Nevarez, a graduate of Atrisco Heritage High School, is currently safe from deportation because of his DACA status, which is good until 2021. Being a recipient has also allowed him to work for the first time. It was actually his desire to get a job in high school that first made him aware he was illegally in the country.

“I told my mom ‘Hey, I really want to start working,'” he said. “She told me ‘You can’t because you are undocumented and you don’t have a Social Security number.'”

His mom discouraged him from trying to work illegally with a fake Social Security number.

The family is trying to obtain their citizenship and she told him they had to be good citizens and break no laws to do that. His father now owns a tire shop and his mother cleans houses. She has cautioned him about doing anything to make himself a target, especially from a government the family currently sees as hostile.

Since receiving his DACA, Nevarez has obtained a work permit. He will start his third semester at CNM in a few weeks to continue studying automotive technology.

In October, he was assaulted at gunpoint and the assailants stole his car, his phone and his wallet with his work permit inside. He’s in the process of replacing that now, but Nevarez said the possibility of being sent back to Mexico never leaves his mind.

“I think about this all the time,” he said.

Blanca Banuelos, a native of Mexico, was brought to the United States when she was just 2 years old. The recent high school graduate will begin attending community college in the spring. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Blanca Banuelos, 18; Came from: Chihuahua, Mexico; Age arrived: 2

Blanca Banuelos said her family crossed the border when she was a toddler “to go after the American dream.” Her dad had already been living in the United States, employed in construction on a work visa. He eventually went back to Mexico and retrieved Blanca, her two sisters and her mom. The family originally lived in New Mexico, then relocated to Colorado.

“My grandma died in 2004,” she said. “We all had to go back to Mexico for the funeral but we kind of realized coming back would be hard.”

But the family did make it back to the United States, and once again settled in New Mexico.

Going to school, Banuelos became aware that she was not quite like most students. She realized that she stood out because she was from another country, although neither she nor her young classmates understood that Banuelos was not legally in the country.

It wasn’t until she was a teen that her undocumented status took center stage in her life.

“Sometimes my parents would need help paying the bills,” she said. “But I could not work and help them because I didn’t have a Social Security number.”

Banuelos graduated from Del Norte High School in May and will start at Central New Mexico Community College in the spring to study art education and business.

She received her DACA approval in 2017 and has already been able to renew for another two years. Her older sister also qualified, but her younger sister did not apply before the government shut down the program and stopped accepting new applications.

Banuelos’ exemption from deportation will expire in 2021. She said she tries not to think about it.

“It is scary,” she said. “But the most important thing is to live unafraid.”

Dulce Medina, 36; Came from: Mexico City; Age arrived: 15

It was the 1990s and Dulce Medina was a teenager living in Mexico City. She and her parents came to New Mexico to visit her mother’s family and her dad returned here shortly after that on a work visa.

Her mother decided it was a good idea to permanently move the family to the United States, believing it would be cheaper and easier for her children to receive a college education. Medina has made good on that.

DACA has allowed her the opportunity to apply for private scholarships, attend school and better herself. She’s earned two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s in social work. DACA recipients do not qualify for federal student loans.

She also has given birth to two children who are now 11 and 9. She said she believes the violence in Mexico has grown worse and does not want to raise her children there.

“Every day it’s scary that they could remove DACA,” she said. “I have two kids. What would happen if we had to go back?”

Her children are natural-born citizens and have never visited Mexico, but Medina said she would take them with her if she’s deported.

Her children, she said, don’t really understand why they might have to leave. She’s told them moving is a possibility and they are excited about seeing their family in Mexico, but get scared at the idea they will have to live there permanently.

She said she and her family came to America for better work and more opportunity and hopes politicians keep fighting to get the issue resolved.

“Before I was living in the shadows out of sight, thinking nothing will happen to me,” she said. “But now … I don’t know what’s going to happen.”