Thanks to President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012, some 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children had the opportunity to come out of the shadows. Now, President Trump has ended the program, which gave Dreamers a renewable work permit and shielded them from deportation. We spoke with DACA recipients to find out their stories and why they consider themselves to be Americans in every way except on paper.
Beatriz dos Reis is a 20-year-old from Brazil who works at a immigration law firm in Pennsylvania. She is also the mother of a 10-month-old baby.
This is her story, as told to Andrea González-Ramírez.
My father came first in 2002, and he left my mother, my brothers, and I behind in Brazil. Two years later, he brought us here. I was six years old. A coyote smuggled us through Mexico, and we were caught by immigration right after we crossed the border. We were all detained, but they released us two days later. We were registered in Texas, but we moved right away to Philadelphia and nothing [about the hearing] ever came in the mail [so my mom didn't go]. At the time, there was no support system or legal advice to educate her, so she really never looked into it. When I started to work for a lawyer later, he told me that if she never went to court, she was a "post final order" case — so she could be deported at any time.
It wasn’t until I was in middle school that I first realized I was undocumented and what that meant. Whenever I applied for certain things, they always asked for a social security number. I didn’t really understand how important it was, and that’s when I first asked my mom about it. I asked her what a social security number was and she explained that it was like the registration number we had in Brazil. So I asked her, "How can I get one?" And she told me I couldn’t. When I asked why, she said, "Because we’re not legal here."
That’s when I started to understand the differences between me and the other kids in my middle school. I realized I couldn’t visit my family in Brazil. I asked myself all these questions: How can I go to college if I don’t have a social security number? How am I going to get a job? What if something happens to me and my brothers and my parents? What if we get detained and we’re sent to a country that I don’t know?
Then DACA came around. I was 15 when I got my first permit. The first thing I felt was relief.
DACA gave me hope. I wouldn't have the job I have now without that work authorization. It changed me in a lot of ways — it gave me things to look forward to. Not only for me, but for 800,000 other immigrants. In high school I was able to go on an exchange trip in Europe with my school because of my DACA status, and that’s something I never envisioned for myself.
I’m disappointed Trump is ending the program. I don’t think we should be blamed for the actions of our parents. I was six years old, I didn’t know any better. And truthfully, I don’t blame my mother and my father, either. We were in a country that is corrupt, and it’s even worse now. The moment a mother chooses to put her babies in a boat — you only do that when you have no option in the land where you live.
You always hear in the news about all these DACA kids who are brilliant people — and I don't mean any offense towards them, I'm extremely proud of them — but what makes me less of a human being than a Harvard or Yale graduate? I'm looked down on because I have a kid. We should all be treated the same, and [this administration] should realize that all we know is the United States of America. To take that away from us? It’s unfair.
If we’re deported, my brothers and I would be forced to go to a country that we don’t know. My brothers don’t speak Portuguese — what would they do? And I have a kid to provide for, and that’s something I wouldn’t be able to do in Brazil because I’m not familiar with anything there.
I don’t even feel human when somebody suggests something like trading amnesty for Dreamers for funding for the border wall. I am not a bargaining chip. Our lives matter, the lives of DACA recipients matter. If there’s amnesty, it should have no strings attached.
If I could tell anything to President Trump, I would ask him to please look at us and realize we’re people. I didn’t make this decision for myself. My parents did it in order to give me a better life and I don’t think they, or me, should be punished for that.