DREAMers Celebrate DACA's Three-Year Anniversary — with Reservations

Leaders from several Arizona immigrant-rights groups bought a strawberry-topped chocolate cake this week to celebrate the three-year anniversary of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

But they didn’t cut it and nobody had a bite. 

The gesture, Mi Familia Vota state director Raquel Teran announced at a rally Monday at the state Capitol, was a symbol of solidarity with 200 immigrants on hunger strike at Eloy Detention Center, where they are protesting the death of a Mexican national in custody.

It also serves as a metaphor of the immigrant community’s sentiments about the DACA program, which grants some undocumented immigrants under age 31 work permits and temporary relief from deportation. There's a lot to be grateful for, but they're not quite ready to celebrate. 

“DACA has helped a lot of us flourish,” said Mitzi Castro, a program coordinator at the Arizona Dream Act Coalition. “But there’s still a lot of fear about the future because it’s not a permanent solution. At any point, it can be taken away.”

With the immediate threat of deportation suspended, close to 60 percent of DACA recipients nationwide found a new job after registering with the program, according to research from Harvard University sociologist Roberto Gonzales. Forty-five percent increased their wages, 49 percent opened their first bank account, and 33 percent got their first credit card. 

Juan Robles, for one, got his first job as a canvasser for Citizens for a Better Arizona with the help of DACA, he told a crowd of about 80 people at the Capitol rally. He was able to enroll in courses at a community college while he finished his high school degree and plans to attend Grand Canyon University next fall.

“I started believing in the American dream again,” he said.

Still, DACA recipients report significantly higher stress levels than their peers. In a study of college-age students enrolled in the program, UCLA researcher Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco, found that 35 percent reported clinical anxiety rates.

Rights afforded by the program, including qualifying for a driver’s license and resident tuition at state colleges, have been hard won in Arizona and remain uncertain. 

“The biggest lesson we’ve learned over this process is resilience,” Castro told New Times. “Every time we pushed forward and got any kind of relief, we were shot down. Every time we came back stronger.”

Arizona’s attorney general this month appealed a federal court ruling requiring officials to issue driver’s licenses to DACA recipients.

The state, along with 25 others, has also filed suit against the federal government to block an expansion of DACA that would have opened relief to immigrants of all ages as long as they entered the United States as children, have a clean criminal record, and are pursuing or have obtained some sort of education, including a GED. The same lawsuit challenges a sister program, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, which would extend deportation protection to those who have U.S. citizen children.

The new programs were set to take effect in May, but a federal judge in Texas issued a temporary injunction.

Several elected officials used DACA’s anniversary as an opportunity to call Governor Doug Ducey and state Attorney General Mark Brnovich to abandon such “frivolous lawsuits.”

Representative Martin Quezada, D-Avondale, called for a letter writing campaign to pressure Ducey and Brnovich to stop “playing political games with the lives of our families.” He urged immigrants to continue preparing applications for the extended DACA and DAPA programs despite the injunction.

“Let’s greet our brothers and sisters because they contribute to our economy,” said Representative Richard Andrade, D-Phoenix. “They contribute to our lives. They are an asset. They deserve to be here.” 

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