‘Dreamers’ made lives here – Now they may be forced to leave them behind

About 50 protesters with the Tuesdays with Tillis Indivisible group called for passage of a 'clean' DACA immigration bill as they marched at the Terry Sanford Federal Building in Raleigh in Jan. 2018.
About 50 protesters with the Tuesdays with Tillis Indivisible group called for passage of a 'clean' DACA immigration bill as they marched at the Terry Sanford Federal Building in Raleigh in Jan. 2018. cseward@newsobserver.com

With the clock to find a replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy ticking down, I feel my anxiety rising. As a public school teacher I’ve had the opportunity to know several “Dreamers.” Let me tell you about Ana.

I met Ana when she was a high school junior expecting her first baby. She had come to United States as a five-year-old. Her parents had made the choice to leave Mexico because her mother’s life was being threatened by the man she had caught trying to rape her then two-year-old daughter. Ana was five when she arrived in the U.S., and her main feeling was relief at being away from the fear her family lived with in Mexico.

When I met her, Ana was struggling to find purpose in her life. As teens, most kids think about what job they’re going to have or where they’re going to go to college, but none of those doors were open for Ana. She hadn’t tried very hard in school or worried about her grades, because she didn’t really see the point. She had been told that college and career weren’t options for her. Instead, she found her purpose in starting a family.

Having a daughter changed Ana’s perspective drastically. Her daughter gave her something worth fighting for. She knew she wanted more for her daughter. I remember a conversation we had about the possibility of her returning to Mexico for a while and then applying legally to come to the U.S. as a student. It wasn’t a good option, but it was one of the few she felt was open to her.

Then DACA happened. Now, she could apply to get a driver’s license, a job, and even to attend college. It was a ray of hope in her darkness. It wasn’t easy, because she didn’t have a birth certificate and navigating the red tape was challenging, but she fought through the adversity until it was accomplished. Then, she worked to help her friends and family apply and get their permits.

I helped her find a weekend babysitting job where she could make a little money and she began to really concentrate on her studies. Despite regular breaks to feed her daughter, she made good grades her senior year and graduated on time with her class. She took a job at McDonald’s and, as an excellent employee, earned a small scholarship that helped her pay for the classes she needed to get her CNA certification.

Over the last few years, she’s bought her own home, and has been working and taking classes towards a nursing degree. It’s not an easy road. Along the way she watched as her brother allowed his DACA issued permit expire and was deported. Her mother and sister didn’t qualify for DACA and she has had to help support them, while at the same time trying to save up to pay out of state tuition since DACA recipients never qualify for in-state-tuition.

With the potential dissolution of DACA, she is terrified. Without DACA, she risks losing her right to work and her right to go to school. True, she may not be immediately deported, but she’s not going to be able to survive without work. She’s thinking about going back to Mexico, but doesn’t have any friends or family there she can trust. She hasn’t been to Mexico since she was five years old. The U.S. is the only home she has ever known.

I share Ana’s story not because she is unique. She is one of many “Dreamers” who have been steadily plugging along toward a piece of the American Dream for the last five years and who are now standing on the brink of a very uncertain future. These children and young adults (most “Dreamers” are in their 20s) need our compassion. Write or call your congressperson. Let them know that they must find a replacement for DACA that offers opportunity and hope instead of stripping them away.

Mamie Hall is dean of students and teaches at Research Triangle High School (RTHS) in Durham. She previously taught middle school in Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County School system.