TUCSON, ARIZ. The shift in immigration from one year to the next is striking between the summer of 2013 and the summer of 2014. With the rise and decided fall of immigration reform in Washington, the surge of unaccompanied minors at the border and the continuously burgeoning drug trade, the undocumented community has been sent further into a state of limbo.
The spike in attention to the border brought by the tens of thousands of young Central American migrants crossing into the Rio Grande region this summer lifted the prospects of immigration reform briefly in D.C. before any solutions were deflated by the August congressional recess deadline.
For members of the undocumented community in the Tucson Sector of the U.S.-Mexico border, many are left asking, “What happened?”
“All of a sudden it’s down, it’s dead,” said Marlene, a 23-year-old Dreamer —the term given to young, undocumented immigrants who call America their home and are fighting for their rights to education, employment, and stable status. “[Lawmakers] forget that there are so many [undocumented] people here [in America], that there are so many people living that life. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re just waiting for something.”
Marlene, like many her age, is a recipient of a temporarily stable status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an action signed into effect by President Barack Obama in August of 2012.
Jaime, another DACA protected immigrant and student at Pima Community College in Tucson, said the threat of DACA not being renewed is something that has crossed his mind, but the fear of what that might actually bring keeps him from wanting to broach it.
“I don’t even want to imagine if that happens,” Jaime said. “[Authorities] have your information. They know you’re not renewable. You don’t know who’s knocking at your door.”
As of March 2014 and since DACA went into effect in August 2012, 82 percent of received applications have been approved for receipt of DACA protections, according to government data. About 77 percent of applications approved are to persons from Mexico, with the second highest country being El Salvador, though with less than four percent. No other country reached greater than three percent of the accepted applications.
What’s more, Arizona was only the sixth state with the most DACA application acceptances and approvals, but the state with the highest application rate. According to the Migration Policy Institute, about 66 percent of the eligible 34,000 undocumented youths have applied, despite the hefty application fee of $465.
While DACA has reached its two-year mark for protecting the statuses of more than half a million undocumented persons, there is an entirely other, large number of undocumented young persons who do not qualify for DACA and are now retreating deeper into the shadows as prospects of immigration reform continue to fray.
Eddy, an undocumented day laborer who moved to the U.S. when he was 14 on his own, was forced to work to support himself rather than go to school. Because he holds no high school diploma or proof of consistent residency after being deported and returning ten times, he does not qualify to apply for DACA.
Now working in remodeling, Eddy, 24, spoke to the close calls he faces daily when trying to live his life here while remaining invisible. When asked what drove him to come back each time, even after spending close to a month in a detainment facility and then two years in Mexico, his response was one of simple practicality.
“When they took me out I thought, well, I’ve got to go back because I’ve got to pay my bills,” Eddy explained. “When [authorities] took me out I felt, Why? I didn’t do anything. When you’re living here, you’ve got…your cars, you’ve got your house, you’ve got bills to pay, so that’s what you think [about].”
Eddy shared a hard reality as one of more than one million persons with close to no forecast of stability in the country. As immigration reform is continuously stalled and the opinion in Washington one that it is largely dead, there is a marked deflation in the Tucson sector in the hope for immediacy of reform.
“Last year I was so—I was kind of—excited, because I thought [immigration reform] was going to happen. But now, that’s not how I see it,” Eddy said. The thought of applying for a green card is one that holds no weight for him when considering his realities. “I will try and see what they say, but I know they will say no. They don’t care. They just want you out of here.”
As Obama and House Speaker John Boehner led the public, stagnant debate on immigration policies throughout much of summer, no tangible progress was made toward any variation on compromise. Especially notable in a season leading up to midterm elections, immigration policy was cheered, jeered, and in many cases, completely ignored.
Obama declared his plans for executive action on immigration policies, both those directly related to the unaccompanied minors being held in the U.S. and the overall state of undocumented persons living in the country, at the end of June. However, he acknowledged that “administrative action alone will not adequately address the problem.” After enacting no executive actions over the summer, he announced at the start of September that no action would be taken until after the elections—a move Boehner said, “smacks of raw politics.”
“The reforms that will do the most to strengthen our business, our workers, and our entire economy will still require an act of Congress,” Obama stated.
In the following weeks, a number of proposals were circulated through congressional hallways, notably a proposal to amend the 2008 William Wilberforce Human Trafficking bill, signed into law by President George W. Bush shortly before his departure from the White House. The bill mandates that minors crossing into the U.S. from countries other than Mexico and Canada have their immigration cases heard in court in an effort to identify and protect victims of human trafficking, versus allowing the option of voluntary deportation, as allotted to Mexicans and Canadians. Proposed changes would essentially allow unaccompanied minors from countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to elect to voluntarily deport.
Santa Cruz County’s Sheriff Tony Estrada, whose jurisdiction is centered on the stretch of Tucson sector border at Nogales, Arizona, one of the central hubs of crossing persons and drugs along the U.S. southern border, shares the views of many other Tucson community residents: immigration is treated as a political tool, and not as the day-to-day reality for many Americans and immigrants alike.
“In the hallways of Washington, they’re making policies that impact border and border security and border communities and they might never have been here,” Estrada commented on the lack of experience with border and immigration issues of members of Congress.
For members of border communities, as well as large cities with close proximity to Mexico and an intricate undocumented population, such as Tucson, the separation between Washington politics and the actuality of existence in these communities is stark.
“I think this is political all the way — one party attempting to make the other party look…weak or undecided, and another party blaming the other party for not assisting or trying to solve a problem,” Estrada said. “It’s a political ball that’s being thrown back and forth.”