ELKHART COUNTY — When Francisco Alejandro reflects on the administration of Donald Trump’s announcement Tuesday, Sept. 5, to rescind the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, two words came to mind - heartbreaking and cruel.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration is giving Congress six months to come up with a legislative fix "should it choose to" before the government stops renewing permits for people already covered by the program.
Alejandro moved to the U.S. from Guadalajara, Mexico when he was 8 years old with his older sister, who is a U.S. citizen. He was raised in Elkhart, where he attended Concord Community Schools, graduating in 2012.
Having lived in U.S. most of his life, Alejandro said he became oblivious to the fact that he was an immigrant until he tried applying for scholarships in high school where he was told he was ineligible because he wasn’t a U.S. citizen.
“I’ve been here since I was a kid, so through my eyes, I was already a U.S. citizen,” he said. “I forgot about Mexico and this became my country.”
DACA - or as it is also referred to as the Dreamer’s program - offered protection from deportation for children brought to the United States illegally. Former President Barack Obama approved DACA in 2012.
Anyone requesting DACA must have been under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012. Applicants must be at least 15 years or older to request DACA, unless they currently are in removal proceedings or have a final removal or voluntary departure order. They must have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, and cannot be convicted of a felony.
Alejandro became a DACA recipient four months after he graduated from high school. Because of the program, Alejandro is one of nearly 800,000 DACA recipients who can legally work, have a driver’s license and pursue an education in the United States.
Alejandro attended college at Ivy Tech where he received his associate degree in liberal arts and science and a dental degree. He also earned a medical certificate from a Beacon Health System program and his substitute license from an online program.
Applications for the DACA program are no longer being accepted and permits will no longer be renewed once they expire. For Alejandro, that means he has until the summer of 2020.
Alejandro said he held back tears when he heard the news Tuesday, but then he heard his mother’s voice, telling him to stay strong, which gave him hope to move forward.
“I also had to remind myself that nobody came knocking on our doors and said “hey, here’s your permit,” we’ve worked for years to earn it,” he said. “So, this time around, we have to fight even smarter and stronger because if they think Dreamers are going to be silent, we’re not.”
During an interview Friday, about a handful of other people under the DACA program described how they benefited from it.
A native of Mexico, Luis Gonzalez came to the U.S. from Hidalgo—northeast of Mexico City—with his parents when he was 7. He’s 22 now and is a junior at Indiana University South Bend double majoring in marketing and statistics.
“It’s frustrating to know that in a few months I may not be able to work legally in the U.S., obtain my driver’s license, or pursue my degree,” he said. “It’s also frustrating and sad that there’s so many people who have negative opinions about us without taking the time to really get to know us. We’re not criminals, we’re taxpayers and we subsidize on a lot of benefits that we don’t even receive here.”
Both Gonzalez and Alejandro said they plan on speaking to Indiana’s U.S. Senators Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Todd Young, R-Ind., and U.S. Representative Jackie Walorski, R-2nd District, regarding this issue.
“We’ll continue to fight for sure,” Gonzalez said. “It won’t be easy, but right now I feel we have the momentum and the support necessary to push Congress to hopefully push the legislation within the next few months.”
State officials react
Indiana officials, including both Donnelly and Young, have recently issued statements concerning the decision to phase out the DACA program.
Donnelly said although the country is still in need of reforms to fix the immigration system and strengthen border security, he believes getting rid of DACA is not the answer.
“We should pass bipartisan legislation to give these young people who were brought here through no fault of their own, some clarity and stability,” he said. “Upending existing protections for the nearly 10,000 young people in Indiana who have been living here for most of their lives isn’t the path we should take.”
Young said he believes the U.S. must secure its southern border and fix its broken immigration system.
“Irrespective of (Tuesday's) announcement, that requires a bipartisan solution in Congress that reforms our legal immigration system, prevents illegal immigration, and addresses the question of what to do with undocumented men, women and children already here,” Young said.
Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th District, said Trump’s decision Tuesday was a step toward addressing illegal immigration in the county, while Obama’s decision to unilaterally rewrite the law was illegal.
“Hoosiers want us to follow the Constitution and uphold our immigration laws.” Messer said. “Now, Congress has its chance to pass legislation that secures our border, restores rule of law and delivers on our promises to the American people.”
Goshen city and school officials
Goshen Community Schools issued a statement Thursday supporting its students on DACA status.
The statement reads: "GCS will continue to stand with and support all of our students, including students that have DACA status, as we always have. We will continue to provide all GCS students with an education that is excellent and world class, striving to prepare each and every one for the bright futures that they deserve."
"Our desire is for all GCS Schools to be safe places for all students where they may express their hopes and fears about the world in which we live, and where they may find safety and solace in the care of loving adults and mentors. As always, if any students have concerns about any matter, we have counselors, nurses, parent liaisons, teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrators in every building that genuinely care for our students and are ready to be of assistance."
Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman also issued a statement Thursday saying that repealing DACA is a giant setback for everyone.
“I was elected to help make the lives of every resident of Goshen better, safer and to help create a more inclusive community,” he said. “I continue to stand with my community members, friends and neighbors.
“I stand with those who have supported our businesses and community for so many years. I support our community schools as they continue to offer a safe place for all and I continue to support each and every person in this community regardless of your position on immigration.”
Despite Tuesday’s announcement to repeal DACA, Gonzalez said he is still focused on establishing his career while he can. His dream job is to work in a nonprofit agency as a marketing analyst or researcher.
Since he was 17, he’s been volunteering for the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance, a pro-immigration youth organization, and plans to support his fellow Dreamers by educating and informing the community about the positive impact immigrants have on this country
“I feel it’s necessary to start a conversation with the community and to educate them about how we’re contributing to society,” he said. “We’re here and we’re no longer in the shadows of society, and we’re also here to answer questions anyone may have”
Dara Marquez, of Elkhart, an organizer of the IUYA, said her goal is to encourage Dreamers to continue to go to school and pursue their education and career.
Marquez, who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico at age 3, graduated from St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame in 2015 with a bachelor’s in science and chemistry. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in chemical engineering at Purdue University.
“At the end of the day, no one can take away our education or our preparation,” the 24-year-old said. “Regardless of the immigration policies, we can still go to college, do our best, be prepared and pursue what we’re passionate about.”
Alejandro echoed those sentiments, and encourages all Dreamers to "keep their heads held high."
“This is a sad moment for us, but I’m a firm believer that all things happen for a reason. As Dreamers, we all have to stay strong, stick together and I’m 100 percent positive there’s going to be a better situation for us—we just have to make our voices heard.”
Editor's note: Names of some of the individuals interviewed for this story are incomplete to protect their privacy.