I have been a beneficiary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals for eight years.
DACA recipients are granted two years of deferred action and a work permit upon renewal. The cost is $495, which must be renewed every two years. The decision is ultimately up to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ agents, who decide our future.
When my DACA expired this past May, I was faced with an internal battle between how much I wanted to survive and how freely I wanted to live. Over the past few years, I have been thinking about my identity as an undocumented immigrant.
I lived many years feeling ashamed and hiding my status. Once I found a vocal community, I felt inspired and became empowered.
I realized that my undocumented status had become my sole identity and focus. I was so focused on finding a solution and a pathway to citizenship that I forgot to nurture every other part of myself. The continuous reliving of my migration story and constant intake of immigration law truly took over my life.
How could I continue to wish to integrate in a country where my community is constantly being attacked, targeted, and imprisoned? As an immigrant, I naturally accepted that my ultimate goal was citizenship and to be accepted in this country.
Suddenly, I began questioning if citizenship equated to liberation for me. I could not stop thinking about Alejandra Pablos’ words, “citizenship does not end your criminalization.”
The words echoed in my head for months to the point that I let my work permit expire. Her words were absolutely right. Even as a green card holder, Pablos had been criminalized for years.
I also thought of Sergio Salazar, also known as Mapache. Mapache is an activist from San Antonio, Texas and a previous DACA recipient, who had spoken out multiple times against the United States government and organized an occupation outside an ICE office in 2019.
ICE waited for his DACA to expire to kidnap and detain him. They would later deport him, marking them as an extreme anarchist.
Despite having had DACA for years and being raised in the United States, this country pressured Mapache by imprisoning them in a detention center to self-deport. I have been left to wonder, where is the line between being an activist and an extremist?
Is extremism defined by speaking out about the constant violence that our immigrant community faces at the hands of agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement? How much liberation exists when you are constantly being censored? Who assures me that my next renewal application will not become my own deportation order?
DACA was never the goal but the bare minimum that the Obama administration reluctantly passed. Organizers have been asking for liberation and decriminalization of laws such as 1325 (illegal entry) and 1326 (illegal entry) for years.
DACA was a huge leap for all of the organizers involved. But what was a step closer to the goal became a program rebranded and used to further separate our community. The United States government would only allow a certain demographic to apply for the temporary relief program.
The program is once again under attack despite being the bare minimum when it comes to relief. On July 15, 2022, the Southern District of Texas ruled that the program is not legal and our community continues waiting for their final decision.
This will leave thousands of recipients in limbo yet again. I ultimately decided to file for renewal because I have been a recipient for so long, and the government has all my information.
I am left vulnerable regardless of my choice. DACA has not only confined its recipients to a perfect immigrant model but it has also repressed us enough to only be a subtle activist.
The value of immigrant lives are not defined by their criminal history, education or nationality. Every immigrant deserves a life full of dignity and without fear of criminalization.
My lawyer received my renewed work permit on September 15, the very beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month. My only hope now is that one day I will not be confined to this unstable program and these borders.
My hope is that organizers, activists and communities across the U.S. will shift their vision from pushing for only “model immigrants” to have rights to decriminalizing and abolishing the laws that oppress our entire community, including those of us who are not perfect immigrants.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week to call attention to Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 as Hispanic Heritage Month. The previous article in the series is:
An indigenous DACA recipient from Mexico raised in North Carolina, she is an immigrant rights activist, community organizer and student at Trinity Washington University in Washington, DC.