BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A decade has gone by since President Barack Obama reinvigorated hope within thousands of young immigrants longing for the life that their parents promised they’ll find in the United States.
Since its genesis on June 15, 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — better known as DACA — gave young immigrants the right to legally work and protection from deportation.
On that day, President Obama made it clear this is no permanent solution, amnesty, or a pathway to citizenship, tasking Congress with the need for a viable solution.
Cecilia Castro was graduating from UC Santa Barbara, amid the pomp and circumstance, worry, fear, and uncertainty loomed within her.
“I was worried. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to work without a work permit,” said Castro. “Sadly, it’s been a constant fear that we’ve had to live with.”
Ten years later, DACA remains stuck on the chopping block along with the wellbeing of more than 800,000 beneficiaries who work, study, and pay taxes.
According to the Center for American Progress, nearly 203,000 DACA recipients are working in occupations at the forefront of the COVID-19 response in health care, education, and food services.
Castro is among the first who were approved for DACA.
“My first memory of arriving in the United States was when I realized water faucets dispensed cold and hot water,” said Castro.
Born in Mexico City, Castro and her family trekked north to the United States when she was 6. She graduates from South Bakersfield High School and seeks higher education at UC Santa Barbara where Castro becomes involved in organizing efforts centered around immigrant rights. A career in education brings her back to the valley and a decade later, she is now the Deputy Director of the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
“DACA is a huge celebration,” said Castro. “For the thousands of parents and organizers that fought to get something like this.”
Vicente Reyes fled with his family from the Mexican state of Mexico at 5. Life in the United States was nothing like what his parents promised, instead, he found himself scavenging the streets for recyclables that would be traded in for income to support his family while toiling the grapevines. Reyes leaped at the chance to enroll in DACA as the Trump Administration threatened the future of the program.
“The Trump Administration would’ve acknowledged that we had no legal status here,” said Reyes. “We would ask ourselves, what are they going to do with us? Are they going to deport us?”
Since he was approved, Reyes graduated from Highland High School and now studies industrial automation at Bakersfield College, hoping to one day land a job that could sponsor his legal residency.
“Having DACA is really big for us,” said Reyes. “It’s not to get a green card but at least we have some peace of mind.”
It’s been 10 years of taking to the streets demanding a permanent solution for thousands of recipients. Thousands more remain hopeful and in limbo, wondering if they’ll get to benefit from DACA anytime soon.
Although Reyes and Castro remain eligible for DACA, they along with some 400,000 eligible undocumented immigrants eagerly await the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to rule against a Texas lawsuit that has stalled the approval of new applications.
“It should be an accessible pathway to citizenship,” said Castro. “Not only for those young people graduating from high school but for anyone contributing to this country.”