by Elaine Marranzano
There is fury in the voice of Ana Lopez when she talks about the children threatened by the demise of DACA, the Obama-era program that allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to live, work and study in the country.
“This is a social justice issue and these children are being traumatized,” said Lopez, a licensed social worker and community activist in the rivertowns.
When the Justice Department announced on September 5 its intent to end the program while also giving Congress a six-month window to possibly save the policy, 800,000 DACA beneficiaries where plunged into uncertainty.
“These children have no idea what is going to happen to them,” said Lopez. “It is a psychological roller coaster.”
Children who first came to this country before their 16th birthday and who have lived continuously in the United States for the last decade were eligible to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) designation.
Mexico accounts for the vast majority of the 800,000 recipients. It is the country of origin for more than 618,000—over 20 times more than the next biggest contributor, El Salvador.
There may be between 80 and 150 DACA children living in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. Some are in high school, while others are in college or working. The exact number is hard to determine because they do not want their status known.
“A lot of these kids are hiding,” said Lopez. “They are going back into the darkness because they don’t trust anyone.”
For now, DACA protects them from deportation while allowing them to attend high school, apply for scholarships, go to college, get a driver’s license and a social security number, work and pay taxes. DACA beneficiaries must reapply for the designation every two years.
The Trump administration has stopped considering new DACA applications for legal status, but will allow DACA recipients with a permit set to expire before March 5, 2018, the opportunity to apply for a two-year renewal if they apply by October 5.
Local groups such as RSHM, Community Voices Heard and Community for All 10591 (CFA), are providing general support and free legal services; CFA is also providing $250 in financial assistance to offset the $495 DACA renewal application.
People who miss the October deadline will be disqualified from renewing their permission to remain in the country and could face deportation.
“We are pushing for solutions,” said Julia Solow, a Westchester County organizer for Community Voices Heard. “These kids are the future doctors and lawyers who will help take care of you. If this designation is taken away, they may end up with degrees they won’t be able to use.”
Among the information provided to the Department of Homeland Security as part of their DACA application was the identity and, in some cases, address of their undocumented parents.
“These kids are very protective of their parents and they feel guilty because they might get them deported,” said Lopez.
For some children, the pressure of uncertainty is too much.
“I’ve been talking to kids about Canada,” said Lopez. “Canada wants the DACA students because they are qualified and they are bilingual. To them, they are gold.”
Contributions to help DACA beneficiaries renew their status can be made at: