New limits for Dreamers

Joya Breems – Staff Writer 

On Oct. 5, 2022, an appeals court ruled that DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is unlawful. The Obama Administration introduced DACA as a policy to protect dreamers–children whose parents immigrated to the U.S. without documentation. DACA allows dreamers to live and work legally in the U.S. They must renew their status every two years. Under the new ruling, the government will not accept new applications for DACA but will continue to renew the status of current recipients, the National Immigration Law Center explains. 

On Wednesday, Oct. 19 The Sioux Center Chamber of Commerce hosted a panel to understand the local impacts of DACA. Panelists included representatives from Smithfield, Perdue Premium Pork, and Center Fresh Eggs — three agricultural organizations in Sioux Center that employ a large population of DACA recipients. 

3.6 million dreamers live in the U.S. but only 616,000 are protected with DACA status, according to a presentation put together by the panel. 

Jessica Diaz, one of the other panelists, works as the Patient Care Coordinator at Sioux Center Health. She is actively involved with DACA advocacy. One of her co-workers at the hospital, Naara Arizmendi, is a DACA recipient. Every two years, Arizmendi must renew her status. Last year, she needed a renewal letter by Oct. 31 to continue working. 

“It didn’t come by November. It didn’t come by December. And this was someone who had followed all the steps and did everything correctly,” Diaz said. 

Sioux Center Health held the position for her for two months and then hired a new employee. Two more months later the employee’s papers finally arrived. 

“She went four months without work, just waiting,” Diaz said. “What’s [Naara} going to do? She’s been through the school system; she has a degree. What comes next?” 

Alex Vasquez is a Dordt University employee who has DACA status. His family moved to the U.S. from Colombia when he was five years old. 

“I grew up not knowing I was illegal,” Vasquez said. 

The application process for DACA is intense. DACA recipients must reapply every years to maintain their status. There is a $500 nonrefundable fee to apply. Vasquez had to prove he had not left the U.S., had graduated high school, and hadn’t committed any crimes. 

“We had to look up my report cards from age five through college,” Vasquez said. “If you make a mistake, you can become illegal.” 

When the Obama Administration announced DACA in 2012, Vasquez decided to apply. “DACA gives an opportunity for students who have lived in the U.S. their whole life to become working citizens, and not be punished for something their parents did,” Vasquez said. 

Without DACA, Vasquez would not have the documentation to work. 

Both Diaz and Vasquez acknowledge the political nature of DACA. During the Trump administration, DACA policy was frequently revised. 

In 2017, the Trump Administration announced that it would end DACA. The Supreme Court overruled the change in a 5-4 ruling. However, the legality of the DACA policy is again in question. In July 2021, a district judge ruled that the 2012 DACA policy is unlawful. An appeals court agreed with the decision in October 2022. 

Diaz has a niece applying for first-time DACA status. 

“Everything is stopped,” Diaz said. 

Since the July ruling, the Department of Human Services has not processed any firsttime applications. 

“[DACA] was never meant to be something that was permanent. [Obama] created it to be an in-between step until Congress could decide what to do with these dreamers,” Vasquez said. “Our immigration policy is old and outdated.” 

Locally, the Oct. 19 panel encouraged Sioux Center residents to advocate for DACA. At the panel, a QR code led participants to a template for writing letters to senators. The letter begins: 

“Dear Senators Ernst and Grassley, and Rep. Feenstra: As business leaders in Northwest Iowa, we call on congress to pass bipartisan legislation that will provide Dreamers, their families, and the employers who depend on them much-needed certainty following years of legal limbo…” 

Photo credit: Alex Vasquez

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