By Lisa Parisio, Policy and Outreach Attorney, ILAP
What citizenship would mean for Maine’s Dreamers (and for Maine)
“I was in my living room, and I saw the news on TV. It meant I would be able to finish high school, go to college, have freedom to apply for a job, get a car, build credit. It meant a lot. I applied right away.”Gisselle*
“I still remember that day,” Gisselle* said, recalling June 15, 2012, when then-President Barack Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. “I was in my living room, and I saw the news on TV. It meant I would be able to finish high school, go to college, have freedom to apply for a job, get a car, build credit. It meant a lot. I applied right away.”
For dozens of young people in Maine, and hundreds of thousands more across the country, last month marked a decade since they were first able to apply for temporary protection from deportation and work permits through DACA – a milestone borne from immigrant youth organizing. For many, it meant opportunities that previously had not existed, and added new meaning to the sacrifices their parents made to bring them to the United States.
Gisselle, who came to Maine when she was just 8 years old to join her mother, reflects on the impossible choices faced by parents of DACA recipients: “For my mom, leaving me behind in Honduras was immensely hard, but she says there wasn’t any other option. She had to miss all my early childhood so I could have food and shelter. She went through depression for a lot of years because we were not together. Emotionally and mentally, it impacted me tremendously, too. It took time to heal, understand the decision she was forced to make. Now that I am a mother, I understand her even more.
June 15 also marks 10 years that Congress has not passed a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, leaving them in legal limbo, forced to live and plan life in two-year increments. (DACA recipients must renew and pay hundreds of dollars every two years to keep their status.)
*Anthony, another Mainer with DACA said, “DACA changed my life” but also “made me feel different. I was like everybody else except this one thing. It hurt me in a way. It put a label on me.”
When he announced DACA, Obama called it a “temporary stopgap measure.” It was clear then, and had been for a long time, that providing relief from deportation to undocumented young people was not only the moral thing to do, it was the best thing for the country. But it was also clear that DACA was not a long-term solution to the issue at hand – there were, and are, hundreds of thousands of young people in the United States who are American in every way except on paper.
On the anniversary of DACA, Anthony, who works in construction building Maine’s infrastructure, and Gisselle, studying to be a nurse to care for her fellow Mainers, shared what they would say if they had the chance to speak to Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, and the rest of Congress.
Anthony: “I’m just here to do the right thing, to better myself, to feel safe. This is what we know as home. If you send us back, we will be lost. We have been waiting 10 years, now is the time for citizenship. It is time to take a step. You must not continue to push DACA to the side. We need change. Citizenship now. That’s what we ask for.”
Gisselle: “The U.S. means a lot to me. It’s my life. It’s my country. I can’t see myself anywhere else. Citizenship would mean a lot for me, my stability, my family. I want to study as much as I can. I would be more secure knowing I could take care of my mother when she grows old. I want no limits on me.”
To support Anthony and Gisselle and other Maine DACA recipients – and to build a better Maine for all of us – call your Congressional representatives today and demand citizenship for Maine’s Dreamers now.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy