The lives of thousands of young immigrants in the United States changed on July 15, 2012, when President Obama announced the passage of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act. This act offers temporary lawful status and work authorization to young immigrants, frequently referred to as “Dreamers”. Emily Guerrero, Supervising Immigration Attorney, graciously volunteered to write a special guest series about how she and her staff have responded to assist the Dreamers of South Carolina since the passage of DACA was enacted, our legal services have processed paperwork for 400 Dreamers. Take it away, Emily!
When Obama called a press conference to announce the new immigration relief for “Dreamers,” my first reaction was pure panic. My palms started to sweat, and my heart began to race. I knew that our small immigration legal services program was going to be inundated with people, clamoring to apply for this new work permit. My second reaction was more methodical, with the aim of calming my racing heart and neurotic mind. I got to work, and I started to plan our response.
As the specifics of this new immigration relief came to light, we knew it was a watered-down version of the Dream Act, which has failed to pass in the legislature for years. Young people under the age of 30 who came to the U.S. when they were under the age of 16 are eligible for deferred action and a work permit, as long as they are in school, graduated from high school, or were honorably discharged from the military.
USCIS (Immigration) calls this relief, “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.” It aims to help young people move forward in their lives and careers, creating the possibility of college and a well-paying job. Many of these Dreamers have been in the U.S. since they were toddlers and know no other place as home. They speak English fluently and identify themselves as Americans. Many have graduated from high school and find themselves in a holding pattern, unable to go to college and forced to take low-skilled, low-paying jobs.
Dreamers are eager, enthusiastic, and beyond thankful to have this opportunity. With this work permit, they will not have legal status in the U.S., but they will have a work permit, a driver’s license, and a social security number. These are small concessions, but in their world, it is everything. It is, finally, a small step forward for them and a chance to advance themselves and contribute openly to their communities.
Immigrants and volunteers at the beginning of one of the 7 clinics.