Gabriela Pedroza remembers exactly where she was in June 2012 when she heard President Obama explain the immigration policy changes that would become the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“When Obama made the announcement … I remember being at work with another co-worker who also benefited, and we just sat there and cried,” she said. “I started gathering stuff [to apply] that moment. When the application opened, I had everything ready to go, and it was submitted immediately.”
Pedroza is one of about 800,000 “young unauthorized immigrants [who] have received work permits and deportation relief through the federal government’s DACA program since it was created five years ago,” according to the Pew Research Center’s Fact Tank.
She came from Mexico with her parents when she was just 5 years old. Before DACA, she said her “employer was just able to turn the other way. I had what’s called a tax identification number. That’s how I paid taxes, that’s what was used to pay me.”
Pedroza, 30, currently lives in Pennsylvania and works as a paralegal for an immigration attorney. “The best thing is that I was finally able to work in the field that I’ve always wanted to work,” she said, “that I was able to get a card to work here legally, to get my driver’s license, to be able to contribute to society. To not be afraid. Even though it’s not permanent, it gives you some security to go out in the world, per se.”
Now, because President Trump announced in September that he intends to end DACA, everything has changed yet again for Pedroza and the other DACA recipients. The official U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ “Frequently Asked Questions” site for DACA states that “DACA is ending. We are no longer accepting initial or renewal requests for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.”
Pedroza’s permit is valid until August 2018, she said. After that, “I don’t know what’s going to happen. My entire family is either a permanent resident or a U.S. citizen, except me.” Her father’s employer petitioned for him to stay here legally, but the process took so long that by the time it was approved Pedroza was over 21 and was no longer eligible as a derivative applicant.
There are few other options.
Someone in her family, or even her employer, could petition for her, she said, but it can take years—if not decades. Or she could marry a U.S. citizen. Pedroza has no good choices and doesn’t know what will happen if DACA ends without any other relief in place. At the very least “most of us will lose our jobs,” she said.
Whether or not she will be deported is unclear. “They have all our information, they could easily do it,” she said. To be a DACA recipient, “we basically have to turn ourselves in.”
What would happen if she has to return to Mexico? “My whole life has been here,” Pedroza said, adding that she doesn’t even remember her journey to the United States. “What happens if I get deported, what will I do then? I’ve known the U.S. and the U.S. only, so what happens then? I’m the single mother of an 8-year-old child who is a U.S. citizen.”
Right now, if she does have to return to Mexico, she’s planning to take her daughter with her. “I feel like a child is better off with their parents no matter where in the world,” she said. “It’s going to be a huge shock, but in terms of separation, it would be such a huge mentally traumatic event to be separated from her mother, I just couldn’t do that.”
While her daughter doesn’t fully comprehend the situation, she understands there’s a risk of having to move out of the country. “She’s heard the word ‘deportation,’ [which is] scary.”
Pedroza’s story is not unique. The Pew Research Center estimates that there were 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States in 2015 (less than the 2009 estimate of 11.3 million). DACA beneficiaries make up less than 10 percent of the total.
“I think people are under the wrong impression” about what DACA offers its beneficiaries, Pedroza said. “It’s not anything permanent. It’s not any sort of status. It’s Immigration stating that they’re deferring any action on you for a period of two years.”
Once that two-year period is up, Pedroza said, you can renew your request. “The cost started out at $465, but was raised last year to $495.”
A recent report from The Cato Institute estimates “that the fiscal cost of immediately deporting the approximately 750,000 people currently in the DACA program would be over $60 billion to the federal government along with a $280 billion reduction in economic growth over the next decade.”
In addition to contributing economically, DACA beneficiaries are a support to their communities on a personal level. “Because of the way most immigrants are being portrayed nowadays … people don’t think of us as their neighbors, the students who went to school with their kids,” Pedroza said. There are “approximately 800,000 of us who have applied for DACA and received DACA. Most likely, you know one of us and probably are friends with one of us. We are here, we are serving our community just like everyone else.”