Diana Anahi Torres-Valverde Immigration

Dreamers Like Me Deserve More Than DACA

DACA changed my life. But after four years of fear, it’s clear that undocumented young people need more protection.
[Susan Ruggles / CC BY 2.0]

By Diana Anahi Torres-Valverde / OtherWords

I grew up undocumented in America. As a kid, I often saw little hope for the future in the country I considered home.

In high school, I was denied scholarships, financial aid, and college admissions because of my status. It seemed like all I could hope for was a job cleaning homes, like most undocumented Mexicanas did in my hometown.

Luckily, the support of my community — and a big change in immigration policy in 2012 — changed that.

First, with the help of many teachers, family, and friends, I was able to attend Amherst College with a generous financial aid package. Then, in 2012, President Obama finally bowed to pressure from the immigrant rights movement and created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Under DACA, undocument applicants like me who’d arrived as young children were temporarily shielded from deportation. If we’d arrived early enough, stayed in school, and stayed out of trouble, we got temporary Social Security numbers and two-year work permits.

This program changed everything for me. For the first time in my life, I could apply to jobs where I could receive health benefits and save for retirement. If I got sick, I could go to the doctor. If I wanted to buy a home, I could. And if I wanted to pursue a professional degree, I could.

So I did. And today I’m an immigration attorney.

Countless other young people also benefited. Tom K. Wong, a political scientist at the University of California, surveyed over 3,000 DACA recipients from across the country. Wong found that after receiving DACA, about 69 percent of respondents got a higher paying job and about 56 percent got a job with better working conditions.

With their new jobs and spending power, these “DACAmented” youth started contributing approximately $4 billion dollars in taxes every year. Clearly, DACA benefitted not only individual DACA recipients but the economy at large.

But if these past four years have taught us anything about DACA, it’s that DACA is simply not enough. As soon as President Trump came into power, he worked tirelessly to abolish DACA by executive action, throwing the futures of hundreds of thousands of young Dreamers into jeopardy.

These incessant attacks spread fear throughout the community. I constantly feared that one day ICE agents would break into my home and tear me out of bed. I dreamt of men in black suits with guns pursuing me through dark streets.

At work, DACAmented clients pleaded with me with fear in their eyes. “If Trump eliminates DACA, I’ll lose my job as a teacher,” one said. “Can you help?” Sadly, most of the time, there was nothing I could do.

For me, the fear ended only a few months ago after an interview at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office with my U.S. citizen husband, when I was finally granted permanent resident status.

This is the first time since President Trump’s election that I feel safe. It’s the first time I feel like ICE can’t burst through my living room door and take me away from my loved ones to a place I barely remember. I finally feel like I can plan for my future.

That feeling is priceless. And it is a feeling that all young undocumented people who have grown up in this country deserve to feel.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have promised to protect Dreamers and our families. They need to keep that promise and reverse all of Trump’s attacks on DACA within the first 100 days. But that’s not enough. They also need to push for legislative reforms that would grant us a pathway to citizenship that can’t just be taken away by the next administration.

It is the right thing to do. All of us deserve to live a full, safe, and fearless life full of promise.

Diana Anahi Torres-Valverde

Diana Anahi Torres-Valverde

Diana Anahi Torres-Valverde is an immigration law attorney in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

13 comments

  1. Of course I agree, but what makes me really sad (as a non-US citizen who has no desire even to visit such a dangerous and unfair nation) is that so many people are so desperate that they take risks to enter the USA, and that their children are treated so unfairly that this sort of action is needed.
    To want to live in a country with no universal health system ( except for war veterans, the pitifully poor and those who survive to retirement), where you can be evicted or tossed out of a job with impunity, where the government bows to lobbies and does nothing to help the people (look at the Congress squabbling now!), where the money spent on “defense” does not protect against real enemies, like disease, pollution, nuclear wars, just threatens other nations chosen to be punished for spurious reasons.

  2. This is a touching story but rich immigrants know the right people when they arrive. They know that money and connections are what matters – they go right to the front of the line and work on the bleeding edge of capitalism. No lines. No forms. Maybe some bullshit vetting process or school. Plenty of nepotism, clearances, families. What the is DACA to these people? A divide and conquer psyop mostly.

    This author means well and I’m no psychiatrist but the writing seems sadly out of touch with reality and tries to spread a delusion by believing in “the promises of politicians.” Nobody cares about promises from politicians because they are too busy watching the ruling class for indications.

    Yet here’s this writer on social media pretending something else entirely. It isn’t just her. It’s an Army of writers who spread these infantile over- simplifications and lies of omission.

    1. DACA, as modest a win as it is, only exists because of the DEVOTED, PAINSTAKING, DAILY activism of generations of conscious immigrants and non-immigrants alike providing pressure on politicians because these young people are so sympathetic, and dodge the blanket moral/legal condemnation that falls unfairly on undocumented workers who the corporatocracy tolerates because they actually benefit the overall capitalist economy, statistically. It is so easy for intellectuals to piss on this kind of victory as nothing, while they scribble away for tiny audiences of fellow purists.

      In all of this (DACA, presidential elections, unemployement insurance/stipends) there is a demoralizing political reality of harm reduction. For that portion of the political spectrum which sees gradual gains as the enemy of true revolution (perhaps Jane Fake?) celebrations like this piece are maddening. Yet, as somebody whose day job is working with such young people (DACA recipients from low-income immigrant families), I can’t well stomach such ideological puritanism which amount to the parallel of Trotskyites waiting for the one, pure revolution.

      News flash: There is no proletarian paradise coming, Ms. Fake. You fight for the world you want, each according to their means, and you get the trillion-car-pile-up that ensues, hopefully with fewer casualties than the last one…because, humans. As always, my opinion only.

      1. Why would the author bother coming to the country in the first place? It’s a reasonable question. She isn’t letting on though, because the answer must be obvious. It’s just great – fighting for what you need without assuming you’d be treated better to begin with? Or something like that. So in that respect she seems lucid but dishonest.

        The American citizens who have no future, no decent employment prospects, and they can’t afford to see a doctor, unless they are indigent to begin with. Where does that fit into the Dreamer narrative?

        The poor never make the news and “progressives” typically ignore these people. But they are there. Generations of hidden poverty. The poor in America are the only ones who face criminal law – if only these were bad dreams instead of real life. I suppose being a dreamer helps in the sense of being asleep.

      2. I am very confused by this post, Z. Do you not know that a “dreamer” is a person who was brought here by adults as a child and is undocumented? If so, why would you ask why the author came?

        Implicit but foggy in your note is the old zero sum canard where immigrants, legally admitted or not, are positioned as always in direct competition with the poor who arrived ahead of them.

        This is unabashedly a pro-immigrant website. Are you here to espouse a reactionary/nativist populism?

  3. America isn’t a place where immigrants or citizens can build a better life anymore. No longer a place with potential.

    Only fools blame economic problems on poor immigrants. However, most evil comes seems to come from a group that is constantly playing people off each other, dividing them, defining how they should divide themselves, how they should think, feel and who they should hate, when they should vote, go to war.

      1. Perhaps I have to ask you what “unabashedly pro-immigrant” means to you. Perhaps you have a special definition of some kind. Could you explain in some detail what it means to you?

      2. They should always be given respect, rights, opportunity, and given succor and the benefit of the doubt. They are good for the country, in all their diversity, and always will be, and freedom of movement across borders should be, when feasible and peaceful, a human right. Basically, what it says on the Statue of Liberty.

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