Breaking the Silence: Dreamers Tell Their Stories
September 5, 2017. An estimated 800,000 individuals nervously check the news to see if the news they heard is true. It is. What now? Fear, the one word that circulates their minds. It almost seems like a foreign emotion, but it has come back and now they have to confront it once again. This was the day DACA was rescinded.
For Marco Reyes, this date of fear came earlier, in June 2016, when he received word from ICE (Immigration Customs and Enforcement) that he an order for deportation. Since then, Marco has found sanctuary at First and Summerfield United Methodist Church, where ICE cannot enter and detain him. Despite being protected in the church, Marco has had a tough time navigating his life within one building all day, detached from his family, friends, and liberty.
Approximately, one year later after receiving his deportation letter, Marco faces those dreadful feelings of possibly being deported, as now his two sons are vulnerable to deportation. DACA recipients themselves, Marco’s sons are now once again subject to removal from the United States.
“We had hope that with DACA, they [his two sons] could better their future,” Marco told The Politic, “but now they’re vulnerable.”
That vulnerability Marco describes is precisely what has many of these young immigrants worried. DACA allowed undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children to legally work or study in the US for two years. This work permit could be renewed multiple times, so long as the executive order was not rescinded, but it would never lead to legal permanent residency or a path to citizenship.
Threatened by possibly being sent back to the country they may know nothing about, Dreamers around the country are hoping that the US government keeps the information they provided to apply for DACA out of the hands of immigration officials. However, very few immigrants believe the current administration will not begin targeting Dreamers.
“The President has said he is only going to deport criminals, but obviously that’s not the case,” Maro explained, while he pointed to himself as if to show proof that immigrants without criminal records are facing deportation. “Dreamers aren’t criminals, they just work and study. They aren’t a burden for this country.”
Yale president Peter Salovey had very similar sentiments of appreciation for the immigrant community in a letter he sent out almost immediately after DACA’s termination, where he detailed his disappointment on the White House’s decision.
“I want you to know unequivocally that Yale stands with you. You are an integral part of our community” wrote President Salovey in reference to undocumented students/DACA students.
For many of those affected, this reassurance of belonging at Yale was a small action that went a long way. For many, it might have also been the first message of solidarity they received, as they lived afraid to tell their stories and reach out for support.
Jose Rodriguez, a Junior in Branford College who is a current DACA recipient, recalled those feelings as a first-year student when he was undocumented.
“When I first got here I did feel out of place. I knew going in, I was going to be a bit different from everybody else. In a school like this, there’s not too many of us here to begin with,” Jose mentioned and then continued, “You want to make friends and open up to people, but you don’t want to say too much.”
Despite his initial difficulties acclimating to Yale in his first year, Jose was eventually able to find a support network with other students in a similar status or just allies of undocumented students. Later next year he would receive his DACA work permit, which is valid until the beginning of his final semester at Yale. But now, only after one year of receiving DACA, Jose could once again be denied the right work and be subject to deportation.
“All the work I’ve done this year, and all the work I hope to do the next year with DACA, now there’s a possibility that that work can go to the trash,” Jose explained. And his reasoning for this thinking is simple but no less harsh.
“If and when I graduate college, I’ll have a degree in one hand, but won’t be able to do anything with it because I can’t work.” Noting that this is a real possibility for him, Jose is already looking at his options regarding what he can do to make a living after college. One option is to stay in the US and not use his degree and just get a “regular job.” The other is to leave the country he knows as home and use his degree elsewhere. His decision could very well be an act of total free will, but at the same time, that choice could be made by the government and not Jose.
Kate Anstreicher, a senior also in Branford College and daughter of a first generation immigrant father, is a close friend to Jose and recalled the joy Jose expressed the day he received DACA. However, now she is worried about what is to come.
“I’ve been concerned for the entire undocumented population,” Kate told the Politc. Yet, she felt compelled to find ways to support immigrants and therefore attended the rally that began on Cross Campus on September 5th to show her solidarity.
“I was very impressed that the Yale community and the New Haven community could come together in such a fruitful way,” Kate remembered. In fact, now more than ever, Kate believes that actions to support undocumented students such as the rally are paramount.
Aside from pointing to basic human morality as a reason for her support for immigrants, Kate, an environmental science major with a focus on food and agriculture, explained that the agricultural system in the US is very dependent on migrant labor. Often exploited, migrant laborers, Kate explained, are paid less than minimum wage while in dangerous conditions for long periods of time. “We need reforms such that migrant labors are better protected and safer,” Kate urged.
Much like migrant laborers, members of the Yale student body affected by DACA’s rescindment are looking for ways to be kept safe. When asked about the actions President Salovey wrote in his letter to the university, Kate believes that these are a step in the right direction, but feels there are certain things that were not addressed.
Specifically, Kate pointed to “Housing and full accommodation during breaks” as “very important.” as “A lot of students feel increasingly unsafe traveling.”
But even here in New Haven, many Yale students do not feel safe despite the city’s orders that prohibit police officers from inquiring individuals about their immigration status. Jesus Morales Sanchez, an immigrants rights activist and one of the community leaders that helped run the rally for DACA, feels these concerns over the city’s policies are genuine.
“These policies have been in place for over 10 years, but they’re just general orders, something that if a new Mayor or Police Chief comes around, it can just go away,” Jesus explained. Much like DACA, a small change in leadership in New Haven could undo the city’s status as a “sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants.
I couldn’t help but feel fear when Jesus detailed the possibility of police stopping me and asking the one question I never want to here. “Are you legal?” You see, many of my fellow Yalies are reassured for their safety when they see badges and the blue uniform. For me, they are those people I avoid at all costs because I’ve got a target and it’s stuck to my skin, stuck to my identity as an undocumented immigrant. Yes, I know it’s a sanctuary city and Yale Police should not be asking me about my status, but it’s the survival instinct I grew up with all my life.
Surrealist fear: what I felt when I interviewed Marco Reyes in his small room in the church. “This could be me in this room,” I thought. My life could be changed by one letter in the mail, and my life could be limited to one building. Separated from my family and friends, friends like Kate who reassure me that this nation I call home is not against those like me. Family, my pulse, my lifeline. It is for them that I do everything I do.
It is my parents back in California that every day I worry for, and whether I may seem them upon return from banks. It’s my younger sister that was born in the US, but I’m worried for everyday that she may one day return from school and find that mom and dad may not becoming home. It was my brother, Jose, who opened the doors for me to be at Yale and inspires me to pursue my dreams, knowing well that our dreams may be limited by our lack of documentation. It was not until I interviewed him that I realized incomparable the strength he has to push through all hardships and always remain positive through the most difficult times.
I hope the entire Yale community, citizens and non-citizens, can put aside their differences in political affiliations or beliefs and tap into their humanity to produce more moments like those at the rally.
This was the rally at which I felt I was no longer alone, no longer in the shadows. The rally where people of all races, religions, and beliefs came together to let the undocumented population that we are wanted here. The rally at which I spoke at and told my story, while a crowd listened and reassured me through their cheers and applause that I belong here. That rally where some even thanked me for sharing my life story, and being vulnerable. It was not just a rally, it was a special moment of camaraderie and resistance to unnecessary pain suffered by the separation of families. It was a bold statement on behalf of the community, and I thank them for every single moment.
So yes, I am an undocumented, but my lack of legal presence does not define me. And despite the fears I have, none of those come close to my fear of not doing anything in the face of oppression of my people and see families be separated. But what happened on September 5th, is nothing to minimize. It was a day treasonous to our history as a nation of immigrants. We should very much feel disappointed by it, but remember that we’ve been in this position before and we have always fought against xenophobia. So now that I think about it, maybe that first paragraph was not the most accurate depiction of what immigrants felt. How about this?
September 5, 2017, a date that will live in infamy. The day we let politics obscure our morality and principles as a country. The day that instilled fear to 800,000 people, who had temporarily forgotten what it felt to live in the shadows. The day DACA was rescinded.