A few months before graduating from Warren High School in 2012, Diego Mancha Dominguez thought he would never be able to go to college. The country he had known since he was 8 years old did not recognize him as a citizen and he had no way of getting a job permit in order to work and pay for school.
But there was one teacher, Connie Ramos, who believed in him and pushed him to dream big. That summer, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) administrative program was approved and it changed his life.
DACA is an Obama-era program that provides two-year work permits to immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children and shields them from deportation. Because of DACA, Mancha, 23, was able to come out of the shadows and work three jobs while pursuing a degree at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Today, he works as a college access and success advisor at Café College, helping other people pursue higher education.
But his life, and those of 800,000 so-called “Dreamers” who reside in the United States, could soon be upended. Texas and other states have threatened the Trump administration with legal action if DACA is not dismantled by Sept. 5. Mancha was uncertain about his fate during his senior year of high school, and he is uncertain again.
On Friday, the state of Tennessee pulled out of the lawsuit against DACA, citing the “human element.”
Technically, Dreamers is a reference to those that would have been impacted by the DREAM Act, Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, which was “a federal proposal that offered many of the same protections as DACA but was never approved in Congress,” according to the Associated Press. Still, several minors and leaders refer to DACA beneficiaries as Dreamers.
Reports from the White House indicate that the president will announce his plans on Tuesday. During his campaign, Trump vowed to “immediately terminate” the program for young undocumented immigrants, but later in the Spring called them “incredible kids.” Dreamers are anxious to see how the dice will land.
“I feel like I’ve been somewhat more accepted into the social fabric of this country, but now it seems like they’re saying, ‘We’ll accept you and the fact that you’re contributing to the economy but we’re gonna end this,’” Mancha told the Rivard Report. “I knew that when I applied, whoever the next president was, there was a likelihood they might get rid of it. That’s the part that sucks, all of a sudden that chair is taken away from you.”
The estimated 1.3 million young undocumented immigrants enrolled or immediately eligible for DACA contribute about $2 billion a year in state and local taxes, according to a report from the Institute on Tax and Economic Policy, a non-partisan research organization.
Repealing the temporary legal status and work authorizations granted by DACA, the report states, would reduce estimated state and local revenues by nearly $800 million, and drop the total contributions to just over $1.2 billion annually. This week, leaders in Silicon Valley like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly urged Trump to preserve the program.
Meanwhile, Republican leadership is clearly and openly pushing back against Trump. On Friday, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan called for a legislative solution through Congress to avoid keeping Dreamers in limbo.
— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) August 31, 2017
Bexar County Republican Party Chair Robert Stovall told the Rivard Report during a phone interview Friday that “the government should come up with a solution.
“Being of Mexican descent myself and having family down there and understanding the situation of those children that are here by no fault of their own, I think for the most part Texans have a more lenient perspective on the DACA program,” Stovall said. “These kids, there is no way to return them – they were raised here.”
Mancha’s mother crossed the border with him, his sister, and grandmother to escape economic hardship and an abusive family environment. It’s been 15 years since the crossing.
“I know that people say it’s not my fault that I got here and my parents made that decision, but if I would have been in my mom’s shoes I would have done the same thing,” Mancha said. “I think it’s bad to put blame on our parents. There’s a strong force at play that would drive someone to leave in the first place.”
Growing up, Mancha suffered anxiety when he came into contact with any type of law enforcement. As a child, he was told not to share his status with counselors, teachers, or even friends. He remembers going to the Public Library and always seeing a trailer with border patrol cars around it.
“Every time I went to the library it was a constant reminder,” Mancha said.
He’s still nervous. Several other Dreamers were almost deported.
“As a kid you don’t realize how limiting it is to be undocumented, because you’re going through school, you’re not working, your job is to be a kid. But at a very early age I had to grow up every quickly because I was always translating for my mom.”
Before DACA, Mancha only had a school ID, his Mexican passport, or consular ID (matrícula consular) as forms of picture ID. Today, he has a Texas ID, driver’s license, and work permit. After hearing that Trump might terminate DACA, friends and mentors encouraged Mancha to renew his paperwork due to his coming expiration dates on his IDs and work permit. On Wednesday, he went to the post office to send all his materials to renew his DACA.
“Having a Social Security after years of having a stigma around it … this number that I didn’t have – it is very powerful,” he said. “They have more than just a numeric value when you are undocumented. It validates the fact that you’ve been here.”
For Mancha, he is less afraid about what will happen to him if DACA is dismantled – he worries about his mama and his abuela and other mixed-status families. When the federal government was sued for the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program (DAPA), a program which that extended protections to the parents of DACA recipients, Mancha said it limited the ability to empower more people.
“Our parents that have been trying to make ends meet are some of the hardest working people you will ever meet,” he said. “I think if you get a chance to see an immigrant’s hands, you can tell that they’re an immigrant because they’re rough and that’s one of the things that I try not to take for granted in my job now and my opportunities.”
On Friday, Mancha attended a downton rally to march in protest against the provisions of Senate Bill 4, the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill, and potential changes to DACA. Many of the provisions of SB 4 are stalled for now, but federal courts will have the final say on the law’s fate.
“This administration, this attorney general, and this lieutenant governor – they have no inclination towards helping undocumented communities,” Mancha said. “In fact, they’re actually trying to hurt them and trying to divide them.
“Right now, people are saying that they’re proud Texans because of everything that’s been happening with the hurricane. It’s challenging for me to say that I’m a proud Texan when I know that people who are trying to escape a natural disaster, their status is even going to impede them from doing that.”
Mancha believes that Dreamers should raise their voice and express how current immigration policy affects their lives. But it’s not just about defending DACA, he added, its about “looking at the whole equation and looking into undocumented people as a whole.”
“If they take DACA away, and I don’t know if [or] when it expires, I’m done,” Mancha said. “I’ve explained it to my employer and let them know but I don’t know what will happen.”
In Texas alone there are more than 120,000 dreamers, according to the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders, and continuing the DACA program would increase estimated state and local revenue by $425 million, bringing the total contribution to $2.45 billion. A recent report from FWD.us found that 91% of the roughly 800,000 immigrants protected under DACA are currently employed.
“Uncertainty is one of the things that I’ve grown accustomed to … that sometimes you can plan things out in a planner and have everything ready, but this is the limit,” Mancha said. “You can’t say I’m going to be living in California, working here, doing this because that might not be the case.
“I’ve been able to adapt and say, ‘Okay I’m just going to take one thing at a time.’ You try to hope for the best.”