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For Michigan "DREAMers," uncertainty over their status is taking a toll

Mercedes Mejia
Michigan Radio

What do we do about the "DREAMers," the hundreds of thousands of people who were brought to this country illegally as children by their guardians or parents?

The answer to this question still eludes Congress, despite two brief government shutdowns that happened in large part over legislators' inability to agree on a solution.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has protected young undocumented immigrants, who were brought here as children, from deportation. 

President Trump terminated this Obama-era program last September and set March 5 as a deadline for Congress to do something.

Julio Mejia-Andino is originally from Honduras, and his DACA status was just approved again last July. Maria Ibarra was born in Mexico and graduated from the University of Michigan's Masters of Social Work program. She is the chair of the Washtenaw Immigrant Justice Coalition.  

Mejia-Andino and Ibarra sat down with Stateside to discuss DACA and how the impending deadline has affected their lives.

You can listen to the full interview above, or read highlights below.

On having DACA front-and-center in the national dialogue and political debate 

Ibarra: "It’s a mix of feelings. It’s heartening to see how many people care about this, how much momentum there is. It’s also confusing to figure out how it became so big so fast.... I wish this momentum had been as big in 2010 when we were so close to a DREAM Act. It’s also very emotionally exhausting to have things change every other day from 'potentially something could happen' [to] 'no, just kidding, it seems like it’s all going to derail.' So it’s a lot of back-and-forth and a lot of information to keep up with."

Mejia-Andino: "Every day I check the news, because every day there’s something new with the government: they’re talking about it, they’re not passing it, it might pass, we’re shutting down. It’s just a teeter-totter back-and-forth and it’s very exhausting.... On top of that, you’ve got life issues you’ve got to deal with, bills, and stuff. So, it’s very stressful. But we get by."

On the proposal to fix DACA while also approving stricter immigration policy

Ibarra: "It’s not fair to our families, to our parents, to people who’ve sacrificed everything to get us where we are. And also to accept it would be buying into this rhetoric that somehow undocumented and DACA youth deserve relief or the right to work more than people who don’t have DACA. I think it’s very divisive, it’s a way that has been used in the past to control communities, particularly communities of color, and in the long run it would just be a Band-Aid solution."

On White House Chief of Staff John Kelly saying those that don't apply for DACA are lazy:

Ibarra: "I actually wrote a response to this with my colleague, William Lopez, called 'Five reasons why John Kelly’s comments are wrong onDACA.' To say that 'they were too lazy' just falls into this trope that we hear that immigrants are lazy. And I’ve never understood how we can steal jobs and be lazy at the same time.

"And this idea of being afraid, the first response was that yes, John Kelly, people are afraid and they have a right to be afraid as we’ve seen this administration: First you have DACA, and then you don’t, and then maybe you do but not really. And when a billion-dollar industry is targeting you for removal and targeting your family, how can you not be afraid? And the expectation that you don’t deserve status and you don’t deserve DACA or the DREAM Act or any kind of relief simply because you are afraid is so incredibly cruel."

Mejia-Andino: "For somebody to call me lazy, and for a politician to speak like that, this is a person who represents the people. To talk like that, to me, is unacceptable when it comes to being in politics. "

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Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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