Millions of Americans will have decided the next president by Tuesday night, consequently supporting one candidate’s policies. And in an election as heavily contested as this year’s, a number of socio-political issues prevail on voters’ minds, including that of DACA.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as “the DREAM Act” — the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — is a 2012 policy that allows undocumented children brought to the United States to stay in the country for renewable two-year periods.
Boston University’s Latin American Studies department hosted an online panel Tuesday entitled “What Is DACA?” featuring a variety of speakers from academia, law and government.
Immigration attorney Brian Plotts started the discussion by introducing the legal structure of DACA, as well as requirements for becoming a DACA recipient. Since 2017, when the Trump administration attempted to rescind the legislation, Plotts said, DACA has significantly changed.
“No new DACA applications are now being accepted. Only DACA renewal applications are being accepted,” Plotts said during the event. “During the course of DACA, too, the age limitation [of 15 years old] was taken out and three-year cards were granted, but that’s been rescinded too.”
This summer, President Donald Trump’s administration continued litigation to overturn DACA, bringing the case to the Supreme Court, where the justices ruled to protect the program.
DACA had left a profound impact on migrant children, said Alberto Fierro Garza, Boston’s consul general of Mexico. He said at the event the U.S. has accepted nearly 826,000 DACA recipients since 2012, most of whom were born in Mexico.
“We have seen how DACA has changed the lives of many families,” Fierro Garza said, “hundreds of thousands of Mexican families that at least now have a person that can work legally, that can drive [legally].”
Fierro Garza added that the 50 Mexican consulates in the U.S. were actively registering families for DACA documentation before the recent decrease in applications.
Damariz Itzel Posadas Aparicio, a graduate student in BU’s School of Theology, said she herself is a DACA recipient, and growing up in the U.S., she was initially oblivious to her family’s undocumented status.
“Originally, my family did try to go through with asylum. We did turn ourselves in. Unfortunately, we were denied,” Aparicio said. “I didn’t know that these borders even existed, to be honest.”
It was not until Aparicio was older that she realized her immigrant status served as an obstacle for her to live a normal life.
“I’m not legal. I can’t do this, I can’t go to college, I can’t drive, I can’t find work for my mother to help her pay all these bills. I can’t do anything,” Aparicio said. “To top it all off, because I’ve been here since such a young age, I was so ingrained into the U.S. way of thinking.”
Aparicio said she is grateful for the federal DACA program, which she said allowed her to attend college and subsequently pursue a master’s degree at BU.
However, Aparicio said an unsolved limitation remains within DACA: the program provides working permits for the children, but not their parents. This has led to the presence of many “mixed families” — immigrant families with parents who do not have legal status and children who are either DACA recipients or U.S. citizens.
“DACA did not keep my family together,” Aparicio said. “As much as it is a blessing for me, it is a curse for the immigrant community, because it means that our families are still divided in this way, and it means that we still suffer because of this division that’s constantly recurring.”
Cristian De La Rosa, a clinical assistant professor in STH, spoke at the panel about a need for more focus on human rights for immigrants — the term “illegal,” for example, harms migrants by dehumanizing their existence.
When it comes to the discussion of the current pandemic, De La Rosa said in an interview systemic racism especially affects the immigrant community.
“A lot of immigrant people are dying now because of COVID-19 and the impact of racism on quality health access,” De La Rosa said. “It is really like denying the fact that we are human beings.”
A September study by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Undefeated found 70 percent of Blacks believed the health care industry harbored racial biases that made getting proper medical assistance difficult.
De La Rosa said she believes these numbers illuminate the racial biases that members of Black and Brown communities must face in American society.
“My hope is that their humanity is respected, that their rights are respected, and that they are given access,” De La Rosa said, “and be included in this nation as a nation of immigrants.”
De La Rosa said events targeting immigration are meaningful to the BU community because they foster a more inclusive and empathetic college environment.
“Institutions like BU, for example, can benefit from the participation of DACA recipients in terms of just being more inclusive and providing a more holistic educational process,” De La Rosa said.
Natanael Saraí García Santos, a graduate student studying Spanish, said students sometimes ignore the importance of sharing stories and building deep connections with peers in their community.
“Because we are so focused on our career and finishing our degree, we get lost in actually connecting with the people around us and knowing their stories,” Santos said. “The fact that we pay more attention to the people that are around, the friends, the stories that they have and how different those stories are from our own context, we can just create more empathy and more solidarity with them.”