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Lives in limbo

Albuquerque resident Fernanda Banda Coronado is eligible to be enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but the Trump administration is no longer accepting applications to the program established by President Barack Obama in 2012. (Source: New Mexico Dream Team)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Fernanda Banda Coronado compiled all of her documents.

All the 22-year-old Albuquerque resident lacked was the almost $500 application fee to be enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

She meets all of the requirements for the program that offers protection to people brought to this country as children who are now living here illegally.

But a recent decision by the Trump administration has put Banda Coronado’s plans on hold. Despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling keeping the program created by President Barack Obama in 2012 intact, the current administration announced last month it would no longer take applications and would shorten DACA renewals from two years to one.

“I’m really sick and tired and mostly angry at the system attacks by (President Donald) Trump and his administration,” she said.

The Rio Grande High School graduate has a job with the New Mexico Dream Team immigrant advocacy organization and is currently enrolled at Central New Mexico Community College. She and her sister, Itzayana, were brought to the United States by their parents from the Mexican state of Chihuahua when Banda Coronado was only a year old.

Banda Coronado gathered all of the documents needed to apply for DACA: a birth certificate with an English translation, copies of passports, immigration documents, a previous employment card, income tax returns, bank statements, school diplomas and school records.

Her mother, Margarita, who was working at a local bakery, was trying to come up with the money for both of her daughters to apply for the status.

“My mother was making the tough decision at the time to either pay for my application or pay for my older sister’s application,” Banda Coronado said.

“It so happened she could not afford either one.”

Life in limbo has become the reality for undocumented youth since the Trump administration first tried to dismantle the program in 2017, only to find its effort challenged in court.

“The president ultimately knows, and understands and really wants a legislative fix to this DACA issue,” said former New Mexico Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, who is a leader of the White House’s Hispanic Prosperity Initiative. “He has been waiting, impatiently, I should say, for the Democrats in Congress to come to the table and not politicize this issue and do something with congressional action that becomes law so that we can offer some predictability to those people who are affected by DACA.”

But Blanca Bañuelos, who is one of the state’s 6,000 DACA recipients, is skeptical.

Albuquerque resident Blanca Bañuelos has been enrolled in the DACA program for the past four years. (New Mexico Dream Team Photo)

She had a feeling the struggle wasn’t over when the Supreme Court left the program intact in June.

“When SCOTUS announced DACA was going to continue, I realistically knew Trump was going to do what he could to make sure that DACA ended,” she said.

The 20-year-old Albuquerque resident said she feels fortunate to have been approved for the program before the administration attempted to end it.

The White House still maintains the program is illegal and said its decision in late July to stop taking applications and shorten renewals is part of a review of DACA.

“It’s going to put more stress on our communities,” Bañuelos said. “Renewing my DACA every two years is already really stressful. We just have to have all of our IDs and our work permit. Everything expires after the two-year mark. You have to go through the process of paying for a new license and all of that.”

Adding to the stress of reapplying is always having to wonder what would happen if she no longer had the protections DACA affords.

“We’re obtaining DACA to be able to get a job and help out our parents financially,” she said.

For Banda Coronado, there is another fear, the fear of deportation.

“If I’m driving or if I feel unsafe at some point, I think the cops may be a good idea to call,” she said. “But then I feel unsafe when the cops show up. It’s just a constant fear in the back of your head of hey, one second I could be here where I have been all of my life. And another second, I could be somewhere where I don’t have any recollection of.”

She only has to look at the example of her father, Jorge Banda Sr., who was deported in 2011. And she said she hasn’t heard much from him since.

Because of Albuquerque’s and Bernalillo County’s immigrant-friendly policies, New Mexico Dream Team campaign manager Felipe Rodriguez said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are not as active in the Albuquerque area with the exception of criminal cases.

But he said that was not the case in other areas where local governments have passed policies that are the “opposite” of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, such as Farmington and Roswell, which “make it easier for ICE to deport with cooperation with local law enforcement and things like that.”

“The activity is more aggressive than what we see here in Albuquerque,” he said.

Bañuelos and Banda Coronado said they want to pursue their dreams in the only country they’ve ever really called home.

Bañuelos’ family also moved to the U.S., when she was 1. She was born in Juárez, Mexico.

She said moving to the U.S. was a hard decision for her parents, Marcos and Maribel.

“But they were facing a lot of violence due to the things that go down in Juárez,” she said. “They decided they didn’t want us to grow up around the things that they grew up around.”

She said her parents also wanted her and her sisters, Nivia, 21, and Claudia, 18, to have access to a free education.

“My dad owns his own business,” she said. “He’s a mechanic. … That’s been our main source of income, ever since we came to the United States.”

Bañuelos graduated from Del Norte High School and is studying sociology at CNM. She wants to pursue a career in community development, so she can help “low income communities, and communities that are being left out of funding from the government.”

Banda Coronado dreams of a career in politics or economics. She is a leader of the New Mexico Dream Team’s advocacy department, where she assists other immigrants.

Her family came to the U.S. from Chihuahua to escape poverty and violence, although she said her mother does not talk about the violence part much. Her family includes a younger brother, Jorge Jr., who, at 17, is a U.S. citizen.

“My mother didn’t see much economic opportunities there (in Chihuahua),” Banda Coronado said.

Bañuelos and Banda Coronado hope for a path to citizenship. They admit being frustrated when legislation such as the Dream and Promise Act doesn’t advance through Congress.

The bill, which is supported by all of the members of the state’s all-Democratic delegation, would provide DACA recipients with a path to citizenship and offer protections for other immigrants.

It passed the House last year, but has not been taken up by the Senate.

Rodriguez said he and Banda Coronado have had discussions with members of the delegation about immigration issues.

“There have been other pieces of legislation that have tried to tackle this,” he said. “We’re very clear that we want a pathway to citizenship and not something temporary like DACA.”

He seeks a path to citizenship not only for DACA recipients, but for other undocumented immigrants.

The Trump administration at times has signaled that it would be willing to address those issues, but Sanchez said he doesn’t want to “get ahead of the president” about a solution.

“I would really encourage, especially here in New Mexico, our congressional delegation to really come to the table and say ‘Mr. President, we really want to work with you. We understand what is at stake,’ ” he said.

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