First in a series.
Ilse is a 20-year-old student at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz. with aspirations to become a doctor. She spent her summer taking classes and building her credits so that when she does apply to medical school, her transcript will meet all the necessary qualifications. She works at Target when she is not in class, and lives at home with her mother and younger sister, whom she is encouraging to graduate and move onto college as well.
While this sounds like the typical American college student, she is far from that.
Ilse crossed the border from Mexico and settled in Tucson with her family when she was 8 years old in search of greater freedom, opportunity, and education. Now 12 years later, Ilse falls into a growing population in the U.S.–undocumented youth whose home is America, a country that, legally, they cannot call home.
“It’s different from Mexico. Different people, different culture,” Ilse said. “It’s an environment that I’m more adjusted to.”
Ilse now holds temporary stable status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which had its one year anniversary this past August. It’s an opportunity for undocumented youth brought across the border as children to gain a stable status in America and continue the life they’ve lived for the majority of their years.
“I want to continue to stay here,” Ilse said. “I want to help this country develop into something better.”
The requirements for being DACA-eligible are minute and qualify only those who came as children or youth within the past 30 years. This automatically disqualifies the parents of most DACA recipients, leaving the children torn between parental and family loyalty and pursuing a worthwhile future in the U.S.
Ilse said lawmakers “have to realize that many of these youth have family, have parents.”
“If they are not helping the parents, they’re not helping the youth,” said Ilse.
Lorie Jordan, Ilse’s mentor who helped her graduate and begin her college education, echoed Ilse’s concerns.
“It is discrimination in a way for the youth,” Jordan said. “[The laws cannot neglect] to take into consideration the families.”
Jordan explained that while DACA has opened many doors for undocumented students, she sees the prevalent limitations.
Several Arizona immigration attorneys explained these complications that come in just preparing someone who is DACA-eligible to apply. In many cases, undocumented youth are unaware that DACA exists, let alone that they are eligible to apply. Once past that, an applicant must show proof of consistent residency since June 2007–a difficult task for someone essentially living “unofficially,” especially if the applicant is older and did not attend continuous schooling. The application fee is $465, and such funds are often hard to come by in an undocumented household where work is low-pay and often seasonal.
Policy Counsel for Third Way in Washington, D.C. and a specialist in immigration issues, Sarah Trumble explained extending DACA to a wider expanse of undocumented persons–including the often-requested parents of the DACA-eligible–would not necessarily have the ultimately-desired outcome.
“DACA is only a temporary fix, a Band-Aid for the compound fracture that is our broken immigration system,” Trumble said. “Implementing an easy fix undercuts the necessity of reforming the system, eroding motivation and reducing urgency.”
Trumble explained a more generalized DACA-like program would actually be a “temporary reprieve” that would, realistically, “be a hindrance to passing meaningful reform if it were extended to everyone.”
“DACA is great for the DREAMers and creates a necessary deadline by which Congress must act,” Trumble said. But for undocumented immigrants who do not have the same level of pardon from the responsibility of illegally crossing, she explained, “they would be outing themselves to the federal government only to be left vulnerable to the policies of the next president.”
However, many DACA-eligible persons still do not–either by choice or by misinformation–take advantage of the program because it is not extended to provide stability for all members of their family.
In the Brookings Freedom of Information Act DACA data collected between Aug. 15, 2012 and March 22, 2013–and accounting for 87 percent of accepted applications through June 30–only about half of those who qualify for DACA had applied.
The data showed that 74.9 percent of applicants named their country of origin as Mexico, with the subsequent highest number of applicants reportedly coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. While 57 percent of applicants from Mexico had been approved, undocumented youth reportedly coming from the latter three countries–which are recognized as core centers of the growing drug and trafficking epidemic–had lower-than-average acceptance rates.
The problem of undocumented young people is amplified in Tucson, the large city closest to the busiest Arizona border spots. These statistics back many opinions that racial profiling is an epidemic in the city, and the state overall, and used as a tool to unfairly target immigrants under the false label of “drug mules” and “criminals.”
“It takes one person to screw everything up,” said Jaime, a student at Pima Community College and a DACA recipient. “It’s convenient for [people] to [stereotype] and profile.”
Jaime attends Pima on scholarship, and the rights granted to him through DACA allow him to pursue his career goals of business and film. However, he said that poor choices made by a minority of people cloud the perception of the overall undocumented community.
“Are we really doing crimes that other people do who have status here?” Jaime asked. “We’re just…trying to live a life without struggles. I don’t see a crime in that.”
While DACA is in place to temporarily extend stability and basic rights to undocumented persons who “did not choose” to cross the border illegally, aspects of DACA are left to state governance and determination. Many states are now allowing in-state tuition to become available to undocumented students, fueling the education initiatives that many crossed the border seeking. The community college system in Tucson has a high number of undocumented students because of this, and the state universities are looking into adapting the same policies.
At the same time, Arizona remains one of the states with the most limiting measures against undocumented immigrants. It is the state with one of the highest undocumented populations in the country. It was the first state to oppose the DACA order when it was enacted August 2012.
Governor Jan Brewer issued a counter-order that took away the abilities for undocumented persons to receive any state benefits, despite DACA qualifications. Those who are DACA recipients are unable to apply for and be issued a driver’s license per Brewer’s order–a significant step backward for a person now eligible to work legally, but unable to provide adequate transportation to most of those jobs.
“How many times are we not going to be late…because we’re dependent on someone else?” Jaime said.
Students like Jaime and Ilse, both of whom need to work to support additional schooling fees, often have to turn down better jobs because consistent, reliable transportation becomes a barrier.
Jaime said that the withholding of licenses reaches beyond “just a drive to work,” having greater impacts such as “an emergency to the hospital” and other unplanned circumstances that pose risks to those living in the community.
“It’s a lot of factors to think about,” Jaime said. “You have granted a privilege, but then you limit it.”
And while Jaime agrees with many Tucson activists, attorneys, and government officials that the laws in Arizona are oftentimes unfair attacks on the undocumented population, he explained that the “pressure” to enforce such strict laws comes with the territory of being a high-profile border state.
“[This] is a tough state…because everybody’s looking at Arizona,” Jaime said.
Ilse is grateful for the opportunities DACA allows young people like her who are eligible and can go to college. But she said, why discriminate against other immigrants?
“It is important to stop discriminating based on age, gender,” Ilse said, “whether they are going to go to college or not go college.”