The Transylvania Times -

Locals Worry About DACA's Future


October 12, 2017

Laura Perez has built a life for herself in Transylvania County after her grandmother put her and her two brothers on a bus in Veracruz, Mexico, that would bring them to the United States in 2003, when she was only 14.

Perez first found herself in Etowah, where she immediately started school at West Henderson High School, then Brevard, where she graduated from Brevard High School.

Before she applied for and was accepted into the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), President Obama’s immigration policy that allowed immigrants who came as minors to receive a renewable extension to stay in the U.S. for two years and get a work permit, she worked in a kitchen.

“It is said that we come from the shadows,” Perez said, “and that’s true, because before DACA, we could not apply for most jobs without a work permit.”

Now, Perez works at Nypro, a plastic fabrication company in Arden.

She has renewed her DACA two times since 2012, paying the $495 required. When she heard about President Trump’s announcement in September to end DACA in six months if Congress didn’t come up with another policy, she said she felt both anger and sadness.

“I was working that day, and I heard Attorney General Jeff Sessions say that we came to take jobs, but that’s just not true,” she said. “I work for this company, and I see people coming and going. Sessions isn’t seeing what I am seeing. I work here, and I am just here to work and live, and I see people quit after three days of working where I work because they can’t handle the hours.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, there were 6.17 million job openings in the U.S. in July, which was an increase from 5.97 million at the end of July 2016. In August, job openings remained around 6.1 million, while the September unemployment rate declined to 4.2 percent. Perez and her husband, she said, just bought a house, and they have three kids. She said one of the brothers who came with her has his own cleaning company. The other is studying to be a professor of history, where he is now attending Blue Ridge Community College before moving on to the University of North Carolina.

Up to 800,000 people, commonly named “Dreamers” after the DREAM Act Bill (“Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, a bill first introduced in the Senate in 2001 and intended to provide permanent residency to minors who came to the U.S. illegally) have been enrolled in the program since the Obama Administration established the policy in 2012.

Trump’s stance on DACA has wavered, with him initially saying he wasn’t going to interfere with DACA, then rescinding it. According to one of his tweets, he stated, “For all of those on DACA that are concerned about your status during the six-month period, you have nothing to worry about – no action.”

In a statement he made two days earlier on Twitter regarding his rescinding of DACA, Trump stated, “Congress now has six months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit the issue.”

Recently, at El Centro, a local nonprofit that assists in improving the lives of Hispanics through community integration, members discussed their fears and concerns. One woman enrolled in DACA, who did not want to be identified, stated that her parents brought her to the U.S. in 1997 when she was 11 to give her a better life.

She graduated Brevard High School, and then went to work in the Transylvania County School System.

Married with three children, she drives them to play sports, she drives to work and her being able to have a driver’s license depends on her DACA renewal.

“Let’s say my DACA expires in May,” she said, “It’s required that I renew it six months before the expiration, which would be in November, but because we were given the deadline that no one can reapply after Oct. 4, my permit expires after March and I’m done. I can’t renew it until something changes. Then I won’t be able to renew my driver’s license, and I’ve never even had a ticket in my life, and I pay my taxes every year . . . I’m living my life like everyone else.”

She said that DACA doesn’t help the Hispanic community alone, but the whole country.

“People say we are getting things for free,” she said. “But we aren’t. We don’t get benefits, student loans, food stamps or Medicaid. The only thing we are getting is a chance to work legally, and what happens to those students on DACA who are in college, studying and making good grades but won’t be able to get a work permit to do what they trained to do?”

She added that if she were sent back to Mexico, she would have to bring her children, who speak English and are American citizens. She has lived in the U.S. over half her life, and she and her children would have to figure out how to live, suddenly, in a whole new culture and country.

“I hear it over and over again,” she said. “People say, ‘the parents knew better but brought their kids over here anyway,’ but now that I’m a parent, I know that I’m going to go above and beyond for my kids. If that means crossing the border 10 times, I’ll do it, because I can tell you, the parents who brought their kids over here, they just wanted a better life for their kids; they weren’t trying to harm the country. Any parent of any race will do that.”

A couple who came in 2003, who also did not want to be identified, said they have one child in college in Kentucky and one in high school in Transylvania County, both enrolled in DACA.

The son, they said, won’t be able to renew because his permit expired just before Oct. 4, but his sister renewed in the summer, giving her two more years of security.

They said they wanted a better future for their children, and that they are afraid that soon, “everything will change, and they will be like us.”

Judy Nebrig, chairwoman for El Centro, said it’s probably hard for the average American citizen to live beneath the pressure of this uncertainty.

“Can you even imagine living that way,” she asked, “not knowing if you are suddenly going to have to take your child to a country where your child has never been, not having what they are used to having, not knowing even where you will go?”

Rodrigo Vargas, executive director of El Centro, said, depending on where one is deported, it’s not just a matter of adjusting to a new environment, but it could also be dangerous, which would be an extreme adjustment for children who grew up in Transylvania County, with friends, who are happy and get along with everyone.

Nebrig said U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, along with Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, have introduced the Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers, Employment, Education and Defending our Nation (SUCCEED) Act, in reaction to President Trump’s six-month time period to come up with another policy. She said it is “stricter” than DACA but would allow for DACA enrollees to stay.

“It’s OK, not wonderful, but we are hoping that it will keep kids from being sent back, and it’s being discussed,” she said. “It’s better than nothing. It has more rigorous requirements.”

According to Tillis, the act is “about the children. It’s completely merit based. If you work hard, if you follow the law, and you pay your taxes, you can stay here permanently.”

Nebrig points out that there never really was any security for minors who were brought here illegally, and that the best action to take for those who are concerned is to stay informed.

“People at El Centro and in the community should gather information and do the research,” she said, “because right now, we just don’t know.”


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