Calls for a path to citizenship grow stronger as risks of deportation rise

Advocates rally Sep. 6, 2017 in San Francisco to protest Trump administration's Sep. 5 decision to end DACA. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gether (aka Funcrunch). Used under Creative Commons.

Young immigrants and their allies press for a legislative solution known as the Dream Act.

She is 22, a loan officer at a bank, and a college senior at Xavier University studying philosophy and political science with thoughts of pursuing a law degree when she graduates in May.

Heyra Avila is also a recipient of DACA–Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the federal program started in 2012 by President Obama to allow undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to receive protection from deportation for renewable two-year periods.

DACA allowed Avila to get a driver’s license and work legally, while being shielded from deportation. Granted these DACA benefits and being the oldest of four children, Avila became the family’s sole driver and a significant financial provider over the last five years.

In January, just days after his inauguration, President Trump issued an executive order making all 11 million undocumented immigrants, except DACA recipients, priorities for deportation.

President Trump has “taken the handcuffs off of law enforcement officers who are charged with enforcing immigration laws,” said then-acting Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Director Thomas D. Homan. “If you are in this country illegally, you need to be worried.”

Then in September, the Trump administration announced that it would end DACA beginning March 5, 2018, unless Congress acts to protect DACA recipients. Without legislative protection, nearly 800,000 young immigrants will become subject to arrest and deportation by ICE. Their work permits and driver’s licenses will also be terminated.

When she applied for DACA in 2012, Avila was required to provide detailed files about her financial, medical, educational, and employment history–information that ICE could potentially use to identify and deport her and her parents.

She was just a junior in high school at the time. “I talked it over with my parents,” she said. “We decided it was a risk we were willing to take.”

The downside risks of the family’s 2012 decision are now close at hand. “My DACA expires in 280 days, two days before my father’s birthday. Once that time comes, I would lose my job, my driver’s license, everything really that I’ve worked so hard for over the last five years.” Avila would become subject to deportation.

Trump’s new immigration enforcement priorities have prompted another family conversation between Avila and her parents. She is not so fearful for herself, but more so for her parents.

If either or both parents were deported, it would be her responsibility to step into their shoes. If Avila was deported, her younger sister, who was born in the U.S. and will soon be of driving age, would step in to care for younger siblings and to drive.

Pass the Dream Act of 2017.
Jose Cabrera, a DACA recipient and immigration reform activist, gathers with other delegates to deliver letters to Senator Portman urging his support for the Dream Act.

Jose Cabrera, 22, is a DACA recipient, and a college senior at Xavier University studying entrepreneurship. Like Avila, he was brought across the border to the U.S. when he was just four years old. His DACA expires January 2019.

“This is the only country I know,” says Cabrera. “It is home.”  But he too is afraid for his family, and they are taking the necessary precautions to be ready.

Maricela, 18, is a DACA recipient, and a high school senior at Colerain, who did not want to share her last name. She was one-month old when she was brought across the border. The idea of being deported to a another country “really scares me,” says Maricela. Her DACA expires February 2019.

Their hope is in the Dream Act of 2017–bipartisan legislation offering a path to citizenship for the DACA recipients, who are known as Dreamers.

“It is what we have been fighting for for many years,” says Avila.

Unlike DACA, citizenship is something that cannot be taken away, says Cabrera. “I’m excited to be fighting for the America that I want my kids to live in.”

Maricela emphasized that the Dream Act should be clean, meaning that a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers should be achieved with integrity–without betraying the interests of immigrants who are not Dreamers.

“The Dream Act has been around for at least a decade, if not more,” says Tony Stieritz, director of Catholic Social Action for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. “At this point, we hope that Congress will step up to the plate and do what it should have done years ago.”

Letters to Senator Portman urging him to support the Dream Act
Delegates prepare to deliver letters to Ohio’s members of Congress urging them to support the Dream Act. Holding signs are Sister Tracy Kemme and Sue Morrissey, chair of the Advocates for Justice Parish Collaborative, Immigration Task Force of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

To express its solidarity with the Dreamers, the archdiocese challenged parishes, schools, religious congregations, and other faith-based organizations to write 10,000 letters to the congressional delegation of Ohio. The Archdiocese received 17,784 letters of support for the Dream Act.

“Our message is simple, and it is very clear–pass the Dream Act,” said Stieritz, speaking in the atrium of the Scripps Center on Walnut at Third Street.

Copies of all 17,000 letters were then delivered to Senator Portman’s office on 34th floor. Deliveries were also planned to Senator Brown and to Representative Wenstrup.

Delegates from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Immigration Task Force deliver more than 17,000 letters to Senator Portman’s office appealing to members of Congress to pass the Dream Act. (Photo courtesy of the Catholic Telegraph.)

There are a lot of mixed feelings and different viewpoints about immigration at her West Side parish, said Sister Tracy Kemme of the Sisters of Charity order in Cincinnati.

“But parishioners see the Dream Act as a no-brainer. ‘Why would we not do this?,’ they ask.”

While many Americans believe that undocumented immigrants harm the economy, a Cato Institute analysis shows that “a repeal or roll-back of DACA would harm the economy and cost the U.S. government a significant amount of lost tax revenue.”

The libertarian policy research group estimates “that the fiscal cost of immediately deporting the approximately 750,000 people currently in the DACA program would be over $60 billion to the federal government along with a $280 billion reduction in economic growth over the next decade.”

A recent CNN poll shows that 83 percent of Americans, including 67 percent of Republicans, want Dreamers to stay in the country.

Citing this CNN poll and numerous others, Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice, said, “Keeping Dreamers in America–their home and country they grew up in–is overwhelmingly popular across the country and across the political spectrum. Why are so many Republicans in Congress and the White House treating this like it’s a controversial issue? It’s not.”

By Mike Brown,