PHOENIX — Daniel Briones has a degree in economics and a job in banking, but his future could not feel less certain.
The 30-year-old in San Marcos, Texas, is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children but don’t have legal status here.
President Donald Trump’s latest plan to reopen the federal government would extend the program’s protections for another three years, but the idea is likely dead on arrival and no one knows what comes next.
Commonly referred to as “dreamers,” the recipients of the Obama-era program known as DACA have spent nearly five years dealing with constant threats to the system, which changed their lives by allowing them to work legally and shielding them from deportation. It has been challenged in lawsuits and congressional legislation. Then came Trump’s announcement in 2017 that he was ending it altogether, although the federal courts nixed that plan.
The fate of about 700,000 dreamers hangs in the balance, and many say they are growing weary of being pawns in every political battle over immigration.
“I think they don’t really understand how we feel, or the uncertainty. They want to play back-and-forth politics and try to use us as a means for change. But at the same time, they don’t feel how we are feeling,” Briones said.
“It’s really hard for us to be able to wake up every day and go to work every day knowing we don’t know even know what’s going to happen in the future,” he said.
Trump proposes to extend the program for three years but only for those currently enrolled and with drastic changes that advocates regard as non-negotiable. Democrats also dismissed the offer.
A Senate GOP bill introduced last weekend would require recipients to reapply while also doubling the cost of applying. Applicants would have to prove they earn at least 125 per cent of the poverty level while in the U.S. and to pay back tax credits that they legally obtained while working. The bill would also severely restrict asylum and temporary protected status.
“The ‘deal’ that Trump proposed over the weekend is no deal at all. Trump created a horrific crisis, and this bill is Stephen Miller’s ransom note,” said Sanaa Abrar, advocacy director for United We Dream, referring to a senior Trump adviser.
For Maxima Guerrero, a Phoenix activist who has had DACA protections since 2013, the court challenges, the politics and the perpetual debate involving the program has taken an emotional toll.
“I don’t only exist to hear the news about DACA,” Guerrero said.
Reyna Montoya, another DACA recipient in the Phoenix area, said decisions are hard to make when the future of the program is in doubt. Montoya founded Aliento, an Arizona advocacy group that helps immigrant youths.
“Can I even plan a future? What happens to my life? Should I get married? Should I even have kids? This is the country that I love,” said Montoya, 28.
Gaby Cruz, a 29-year-old community organizer in California with United We Dream, feels continuous uncertainty over her future, too. She was brought here when she was just a year old.
“It’s just a constant, overwhelming need to know what’s going on and the feeling of uncertainty that I have,” Cruz said.
Cruz, a banker-turned-activist, was sitting at her desk at a private mortgage company in 2017 when Trump announced he was ending the program. She soon quit her job and joined United We Dream.
The deal proposed by Republicans is no bargain, she said, not just because of the way it changes DACA but because of how it would affect other immigrants, like those protected by temporary status or asylum-seekers from Central America.
“I feel like our community has been constantly under attack by this administration since 2017,” Cruz said. “It’s hard not to watch when it affects your daily life.”