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Nine years later, ‘Dreamers’ ask Congress to make citizenship a reality for DACA recipients

UPDATED: Tue., June 15, 2021

Jesus Lopez works in his family's carpentry workshop in Zapopan, Jalisco state, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Lopez arrived to the U.S. when he was 9 on a tourist visa that later expired. He became a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, recipient in 2012, which allowed him to work. In 2015, he said he did not complete his DACA renewal because he couldn't afford it.  (Refugio Ruiz)
Jesus Lopez works in his family's carpentry workshop in Zapopan, Jalisco state, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Lopez arrived to the U.S. when he was 9 on a tourist visa that later expired. He became a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, recipient in 2012, which allowed him to work. In 2015, he said he did not complete his DACA renewal because he couldn't afford it. (Refugio Ruiz)
By Amber D. Dodd Community Journalism Fund

During a Zoom call to celebrate the nine-year anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era policy that grants undocumented citizens a temporary stay in the United Sates, DACA recipients looked to cement their time in America with one ask from Congress: citizenship.

Leydy Rangel, who moderated the call held by nonprofit United Farm Workers, touched on personal experiences of the nine-year limbo of DACA, whose recipients are called “Dreamers.”

“I know how much meaningful change, liberty and stability the program gives me,” Rangel said. “But every time I renew my permit, I worry, when will be the last time?”

During the Zoom call, three children of undocumented farm workers told their stories of relentless farm labor and the pursuit of citizenship.

Vicente Reyes recalled witnessing his parents’ fear of separation while still providing food to American families. He mentioned his parents’ work picking avocados, kale and other healthy foods on California farms while wildfires, rain storms and the deadly COVID-19 pandemic continued. It encouraged him to become a first-time voter in 2020 to pursue citizenship for his family.

“If we are essential, shouldn’t we have priorities met?” Reyes asked. “Shouldn’t we receive protection? Without us, you would not be able to eat. Without us, this country would collapse.”

DACA recipients addressed the uncertainty associated with former President Donald Trump’s attacks on immigrants as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents enforced strict bans on undocumented citizens. Rangel cited farm workers Santos Hilario Garcia and Marcelina Garcia Profecto as an unfortunate example. After dropping off their children to child care, the couple died in a high-speed chase with ICE in 2018.

“With that fear of family separation, they took off,” Rangel said. “That’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about what the last four years have meant for undocumented farmworkers.”

The California couple is survived by their six young children.

According to ICE’s fiscal recap, they removed 256,085 people from United States soil that year.

With the House and Senate both in Democrats’ control, UFW’s speakers said there’s no better time to grant undocumented immigrants citizenship.

Two bills are currently moving through Congress under the Biden Administration. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021 passed in the House with a 228-197 vote on March 18. Congress is still looking to pass the DREAM Act, which would grant certain immigrants who moved to America at a young age permanent residency.

DACA recipients like Diana Hernandez still feel that the Senate is dragging its feet.

Hernandez’s parents have found home in America for the past 25 years but are still not recognized as U.S. citizens. While partial citizenship looms in her household, Hernandez, a citizen herself, voted in both the general election and Georgia runoff election at the top of the year. As a Georgia resident, she now turns her attention toward Georgia Sens. Jon Ossof and Raphael Warnock to keep their word on improving immigration policy. The pair’s win secured the Senate for the Democrats, which should make passing bills such as the Farmworkers Modernization Act easier.

“We want to hold everyone accountable of the promises they made that made us want to give them our votes,” Hernandez said. “Something that we’ve done is remind these people of their promises.”

In May, Rangel and five other children of undocumented workers visited President Joe Biden in the Oval Office to push legislation forward on the cloudy path to their permanent citizenship. On the DACA anniversary, Vice President Kamala Harris hosted a roundtable discussion in the White House with immigrants to discuss citizenship, though the Senate is sluggish on both bills.

“I’m here on behalf of the Biden-Harris administration to tell you this administration fully intends to do everything in our power to protect our Dreamers,” Harris said at the helm of the table. Members of the National Domestic Workers Alliance looked on, two of whom were DACA recipients.

Still, Rangel and others members of the nonpartisan group say the White House and Congress need to act on their promises for citizenship, not just state them.

“All because we have a friendly White House (administration), doesn’t mean we stop here,” Rangel said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

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