Dana Padilla is being forced to return to a country she hardly knows, leaving her current life behind.
Padilla, whose name has been changed, said she is afraid she will be deported to Mexico after President Donald Trump sought to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order implemented during the Obama Administration.
“I’m moving to Mexico. Is it a big deal? Yes, and it’s hard, but it’s not impossible. Imagine moving to a whole different world where you know you’re from and you know the culture of that world, but you have been in a whole different world this whole time,” she said. “While I wait here I could be a doctor in Mexico, or be whatever I want to be without someone telling me I can’t because of my status.”
The Obama Administration created DACA in June of 2012. The order allows children of undocumented parents to remain in the United States.
“Pretty much all it did was say ‘if you were a kid when you were brought here, you have kept your nose clean, you can work and your deportation won’t be a priority for us,’” Daryl Gandy, a former Government teacher said.
Padilla’s mother brought her to the United States at the age of three so she could have an opportunity for a better life, but since she can’t sign up for DACA she sees those opportunities dwindling.
She said she intended to go to college at Oklahoma City Community College, but never finished her application because she was not sure if she would ever have the opportunity to become a resident. The Admissions Office at Oklahoma City Community College said students who wish to attend are not required to have a social security card.
“I never did sign up for DACA, and I even have the paperwork for it,” she said. “It’s sitting in my room filled out.”
The Pew Research Center reported that 790,000 young authorized immigrants have received work permits and deportation relief through the act. Of those approved for DACA, only 4 percent of Oklahomans qualify for the act. Today, applications are on hold. Those who have benefits could lose their benefits later this year.
Michael Jones, an undocumented man whose name has also been changed, said his meeting to receive DACA was nine days away.
“They told me to get my diploma and other documents,” he said. “But the same day they called, and cancelled the entire thing.”
His mother brought him to America at the age of six, and he feels bad he couldn’t contribute to the community in Oklahoma.
“There [were] a lot of tech schools that had been waiting for me when I graduated to apply for DACA. I had to save up the money to become a citizen,” he said.
Jones said he could hardly afford DACA even when it was available. “It’s $2000 if you have no help, but there were some churches that would help you bring it down to $400.”
The Department of Homeland Security said those wishing to apply for the program would have had to pay a $495 filing fee along with an application fee, and would have to pay a fee every two years in order to remain a recipient.
Jones said without DACA he can only hope to get a job somewhere without documentation.
“I was trying to get my first tech certification in security equipment, but I need a clean background with citizenship,” he said. “My goal now is trying to get an under the table job, anywhere an online certification is accepted.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ office sent a letter on September 4, outlining his legal arguments that DACA, “was effectuated by the previous administration through executive action, without proper statutory authority and with no established end-date, after Congress’ repeated rejection of proposed legislation that would have accomplished a similar result.”
Session suggested the best way to deal with the repeal was to, “wind things down in an efficient, and orderly fashion, and his office has reviewed the terms on which our department will do so.”
Gandy said because the Dream Act never became a law, nor DACA, then the president doesn’t have to abide by it.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-WA, issued a statement saying the President’s program was “well intentioned (but) a clear abuse of executive authority, an attempt to create a law out of thin air.”
Ryan said by ending the program, Trump would be keeping his campaign promise to “restore the proper role of the executive, and legislative branches.”
Oklahoma Senator James Lankford, a Republican, said he agreed Obama’s executive order was wrong, but he disagreed with the repeal of the act.
“Americans do not hold children legally accountable for the actions of their parents,” Lankford said. “In the coming months, Congress must address this issue.”
If Congress pushes through a law for dreamers, Gandy said, “The president has to abide by it until either congress gets rid of it, or the supreme court says it’s unconstitutional.”
He said that legislation will most likely be unable to deal with the removal of DACA, because it is “way too dysfunctional.”
Oklahoma Congressman, Republican Steve Russell, said he believes that Congress should decide whether to keep DACA. Russell said giving the DACA applicants a residency would allow them to abide by the law.
“Then whether or not they would eventually become citizens would be on their own merits,” Russell said. “They had no choice on being here when they came here as children through the actions of others.”
Padilla said parents shouldn’t be demonized for coming to the United States. “When they think of the United States they think family, better paying jobs. Mexico is rich, but not the people. All the money, the government has,” she said.
However, Padilla said people do care and others are still paying attention to what’s happening, “I’m still impacted even though I don’t have it because I have family members and friends who are on it,” she said.
When people argue immigrants should have came to the country legally, there is no exact process for undocumented children, she said.
“The only legal way there was, or maybe still is, was DACA,” Padilla said.
Oklahoma State Senator Michael Brooks-Jimenez, a Democrat, wrote on his law firm’s web page that dreamers should not panic because they will be legal until the set expiration date. Brooks-Jimenez practices immigration law.
“The Department of Homeland Security will continue to process pending applications that were accepted by the Department as of [September 5th], but will not accept initial applications moving forward,” he said.
Brooks-Jimenez said those who want to renew have to do so before October 5th otherwise their applications will not be processed. But even then, he said, those approvals will expire in March, 2018.
“The program will reportedly phase out over 6 months, and DACA permits expiring after March 5th will not be eligible for renewal,” he said.
Oklahoma lawmakers will have the opportunity to change the outcome for young children in America if they decide before the expiration date, Brooks-Jimenez said.
Jones said he feels the government has no sympathy when it comes to ending DACA.
“I feel they can’t see me past my paperwork, they don’t see it is my life on the line,” he said.
Padilla said she hopes one day those who say immigrants and their children shouldn’t live in America can understand where immigrants of all nationalities are coming from.
“They have all these opinions about cultures, but they have no clue what we go through,” she said. “What if Americans, because of Trump, were trying to go to Mexico asking for Asylum, would they like to be rejected? That’s my question.”
The need for people to understand the struggles of immigrants is important to Padilla. She said if she could find a way to make people see she would simply show them her culture first hand.
“If I could I would like to have a day where people could see Mexican culture, and see what it’s really like, I would show them Mexican carnivals, even my family,” she said. “So they can see everybody’s just trying to get by.”
As for her departure from the United States, Padilla said it won’t be easy because of increased monitoring at the United States-Mexican border.
Homeland Security requires all visitors leaving the United States must have documentation, which Dana doesn’t have, creating yet another obstacle for her. Once she arrives in Mexico, Padilla said she will live with family she has never met before in a small city in Chihuahua and she will attend University there.
“But either way it’s either stay in this world where the only thing I can do is hope for things to happen, or go to the world where I belong, and do what I have to do,” she said.
Padilla plans to leave America in January.