There are about 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States. About 800,000 immigrants in the U.S. are current DACA-holders. There is no way for them to get a green card or to become permanent residents. This is why when President Trump announced he was ending DACA in 2017, many Dreamers feared they would be deported immediately. But, now the United States Supreme Court is deciding their fate.
This is part one of a two-part discussion about DACA. In two weeks we will release part two.
Natalie Dowzicky spoke to Alex Nowrasteh, Jose Antonio Vargas, Gaby Pacheco, Oscar Hernandez, Kevin Ortiz, Nelcy Rocha, Ewaoluwa Ogundana, Christian Aguirre, & Bruna Distinto.
Special thanks to TheDream.Us scholarship program for working closely with us to find students to speak with.
Music by Cellophane Sam.
00:15 Former President Obama: These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in every single way but one: On paper.
00:28 Jose Antonio Vargas: No one asked me, “Hey, do you wanna be smuggled?” Nobody said this to me.
00:34 President Donald Trump: I will immediately terminate President Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration.
00:43 Gaby Pacheco: And the ICE officers practically said to us the reason why they came after me was because I was an activist and they said, “You need to shut up.”
00:51 Alex Nowrasteh: There is no way for them to get a green card. There is no way for them to become a US citizen. That’s why DACA is such an important policy for them.
01:02 Gaby Pacheco: The story of DACA shows the benefit this country will have when you allow people to be their free full selves.
01:14 Natalie Dowzicky: This is The Pursuit. I’m Natalie Dowzicky.
01:28 Natalie Dowzicky: Can you remember when you were preparing to get your driver’s license? Or maybe when you were assessing your options for college? Now imagine in this frantic time that you were told you were undocumented, that you didn’t belong here.
01:39 Ewaoluwa Ogundana: Hi. Do I say hi?
01:41 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, go ahead.
01:42 Ewaoluwa Ogundana: Hi, my name is Ewaoluwa Ogundana. I’m a student at Trinity Washington University. I’m from Lagos, Nigeria, and I came to the US when I was five, so in 2004. And I haven’t been back ever since.
01:57 Natalie Dowzicky: Ewa is undocumented and her parents didn’t tell her until she was a teenager.
02:01 Ewaoluwa Ogundana: They hid it from me. I had to figure it out on my own. I knew we weren’t citizens, I knew that. My dad made that clear, but I didn’t know that being undocumented meant I couldn’t work, I didn’t have a Social Security card, I didn’t know it meant that I wouldn’t be able to apply to scholarships as easily as my peers. The actual barriers of it, I hadn’t experienced, so until I did, that’s when it fully like, “Oh, so you’re really, really undocumented.” [chuckle] With them hiding it, I had to learn the process.
02:34 Christian Aguierre: So I went through grade school, middle school, and most of high school, not really realizing what it meant to be undocumented.
02:43 Natalie Dowzicky: This is Christian Aguierre. He’s also a college student.
02:46 Christian Aguierre: Until I took a course, at that point, the state of Illinois used to require that all the students in high school take their driver’s ed course, and so, I went through all of that, and then at the very end of the course that’s when everybody gets really excited and is able to apply for a driver’s license. However, I wasn’t able to do that at the end of the course, even though I got an A plus.
03:09 Natalie Dowzicky: And this is Nelcy Rocha. A student who immigrated from Bolivia when she was just two years old.
03:15 Nelcy Rocha: My parents didn’t really tell me what my status was. They just kept it really quiet so I don’t have to worry about anything, but soon as I got in college, I learned what it is, so it made me realize how much my parents had been hiding something from me. But also, I appreciated them because I was able to live a normal life kind of.
03:37 Natalie Dowzicky: Every immigrant we talked to knew that their parents made the most challenging decision of their lives to uproot their families for a chance to live in America. Some of them are still grappling with why their parents decided to move in the first place.
03:50 Christian Aguierre: I am from the outskirts of Guadalajara, Mexico. I came to the United States when I was eight years old, and most of my life, I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. Originally, I thought I was coming on vacation, so I remember it was the summer, and so we came and I thought that I was gonna get to see Disneyland and all those touristy places. However, we ended up settling here, and so, I just remember not really saying goodbye to any of my family members, any of my friends, because I thought that I would be coming back.
04:28 Natalie Dowzicky: There are about 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States. Of course, this is a guess, because there is no way to know the exact number of people who have entered our country without the correct paperwork.
04:40 Kevin Ortiz: I was born in Mexico in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco. It’s a small town in the state of Jalisco, not too far away from the major capital city of Guadalajara.
04:51 Natalie Dowzicky: And this is Kevin Ortiz.
04:52 Kevin Ortiz: And when I was five years old is when my father actually migrated to the United States. My father, he was really struggling. We’re looking around 1995, 1996. And in Mexico, at that particular moment, it’s… The economy is in a downturn, there’s a lot of jobs are disappearing, and it’s just tough to find good employment. And at the moment, he had three kids and a wife that he was trying his best to take care of, so he knew that there were opportunities north there, the Great North was always the next horizon and it was an opportunity to truly provide a better way of life.
05:39 Natalie Dowzicky: Kevin spent seven years in Mexico separated from his father who moved to United States before the rest of the family followed suit.
05:46 Kevin Ortiz: And it wasn’t until I was about 12 years old when I migrated along with the rest of my family to United States to really meet up with my father again. The whole purpose of that journey of that decision was to bring the family together, my mom, my dad, and my siblings.
06:03 Natalie Dowzicky: Seven years without a father was challenging for Kevin and his family. But when he was 12 years old, the time to journey to El Norte finally arrived.
06:16 Kevin Ortiz: So I remember giving my grandma a big hug, and just walking out of her house, and my mom stayed for a little longer. I kinda, me and my sister and my brothers, we started the walk over to the bus station where the big bus was to take us to the La Frontera. That was very… I can only imagine how tough that was for my mom to say goodbye to her own mother. And I remember my other grandmother, Carmela, and my grandfather being there as well, waving us goodbye as we were starting on this journey. We probably were on the bus for a full day all the way from Jalisco to the border with Arizona, I think it’s called Chihuahua. And we probably spend a night in the border before getting ready to start the journey, which was crossing the desert between Mexico and the state of Arizona.
07:12 Natalie Dowzicky: The journey was anything but easy for Kevin and his family.
07:15 Kevin Ortiz: We ended up having to spend another full day and full night in the desert walking the rest of the way. And we… At that moment, we don’t have enough rations for that. We plan for one day trip. We were told to buy enough water and enough tuna and bread to survive one day. And I remember that we had to really be strategic and ration what we had. It was the second night, I was just exhausted. I never felt so tired and I never wanted to stop and sit down and sleep more than ever. I was ready to give up and quit. One moment we were just walking, someone heard something and we probably sat down for 10 seconds within those moments, and that is all I needed to just get a little rest and continue.
08:16 Natalie Dowzicky: The struggle was far from over for Kevin and his family even though the journey across the desert was now a memory.
08:22 Kevin Ortiz: It’s a little tough for me, because even for some years, I feel like I blocked that memory out of my brain. I wouldn’t think about it, it was very tough, and I guess a way of dealing and coping with it, was just to forget and not to think about it. However, recently over the past three, four years, that memory has returned and I embrace it a lot more. I’m proud of the fact that we went on such an incredible, dangerous journey, and I’m so proud and so honored to call my mother, my mother, because she took us on that journey. She found the courage to do it, she understood her purpose. She knew the why. And I always remember that big saying by Victor Franklin, which is, “If you know your why, you can endure any how.” And our purpose was to bring the family together and it didn’t matter how we were gonna do it.
09:16 Natalie Dowzicky: When Kevin arrived in the US, he was fully aware that he did not have the correct papers to reside here permanently. Immigrants risk it all to come to America. They face more barriers than we can count. This is Alex Nowrasteh, Director of Immigration Studies at the Cato Institute.
09:32 Alex Nowrasteh: Basically, immigration law is so complex, so convoluted, so full of weird exceptions and not well thought out. The central planner who designed it, just kidding, there was no central planner. [chuckle] The person, the people who thought about how all these pieces fit together didn’t do a very good job. So there are tons of executive actions, tons of memos, tons of just things that they’ve done a certain way that’s not spelled out in statute or in regulation even or even in memo, that is just sort of accepted as the way to do things now because they’ve been done so long.
10:10 Natalie Dowzicky: People like Ewa, Christian, Kevin, and over 700,000 other undocumented residents knew this all too well. Since as early as 2001, people in their situation have been known as Dreamers, not just because of their dreams for a life in America, but also because of a possible legislative fix to their situation. The Development, Relief, And Education for Alien Minors Act, or the DREAM Act. When it was most recently proposed to Congress in 2011, it had widespread public support but was still struck down. However, the Obama administration decided to bypass Congress altogether and instituted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, or DACA.
10:52 Alex Nowrasteh: It was an executive action that basically took off the table a large number of Dreamers, people who were brought here as young children, who are unlawful immigrants from deportation, they had to fulfill several requirements. So they had to have entered at a certain… Past a certain point, a certain age and date, they had to not have any criminal convictions, certain amount of education, they could be in the military, etcetera. And it basically, if they applied for DACA status, then they got a work permit that would last two years and they’re allowed to stay in the United States and really couldn’t be deported unless they committed a crime.
11:33 Natalie Dowzicky: It’s important to note that Dreamers are not granted citizenship, temporary protected status or given green cards under the program, but once accepted, are also not considered undocumented unless their status is not renewed.
11:47 Alex Nowrasteh: There is no way for them to get a green card, there is no way for them to become a US citizen. That’s why DACA is such an important policy for them.
12:00 Ewaoluwa Ogundana: So I learned about DACA through my dad, actually, and he learned about it through his friend.
12:03 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh wow.
12:04 Ewaoluwa Ogundana: And I got DACA in 2015. I just always remember, I think it was like ninth grade, 10th grade. He was always saying, “Oh, Obama passed this policy and I think you can benefit from it. You have to look into it.” But I really had no clue what it was. I didn’t know how it helped me. At that time, I didn’t really fully understand what being undocumented actually even meant, because I wasn’t applying to anything at that time. So it was once his friend told him about it, and then, when I was of age, I think, 15, I sent my application, I remember my mom driving me to Baltimore to the USCIS to go through the application process, submit the application, do my fingerprinting, all those things.
12:52 Gaby Pacheo: Being unauthorized or undocumented in the United States really is like being… They call it a golden cage. You’re able to see the beauty and able to experience things, but you are in a cage.
13:04 Natalie Dowzicky: This is Gaby Pacheco, Program Director for TheDream.US, a national scholarship program for Dreamers looking to pursue a college education in America. She also came to the US as an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador at the age of eight.
13:19 Gaby Pacheo: So my dad and my mom actually were business owners and they… It wasn’t like they were poor, they actually had resources and we had a pretty good life in Ecuador. But they used to frequent the United States. And one time my dad saw a group of elementary school children walking alone from, I guess, their house to school. And he thought, “Oh my gosh, that would never happen in our home country. And I want that level of safety and freedom for my children.”
13:55 Natalie Dowzicky: Gaby came to the US in 1993 when she was eight years old. Unlike many undocumented families, Gaby’s family came to the US as prepared as possible, even with Social Security numbers. She was aware that something was wrong with her paperwork because her family was never able to secure a religious visa, which was their intention when they moved. As she grew up in the United States, she became more vocal and determined for society to understand the plight of living undocumented in America. She embarked on a four-month long walk from Miami to DC. She was the first undocumented Latina to testify in front of Congress, and she was recently recognized as one of Forbes 40 under 40 Latinos in American politics.
14:36 Gaby Pacheo: In 2006, ICE actually came and raided our home, detained my parents and my sisters. And the ICE officers, the ones that were leading, practically said to us the reason why they came after me was because I was an activist and they said, “You need to shut up,” kind of thing. As a person that believes that I’m an American and that I hold true the values, I was like, “What?” Like, “No, you’re going against the most important first amendment right.” Like, “No, I’m gonna keep speaking up.”
15:11 Natalie Dowzicky: DACA recipients don’t have the ability to become full-fledged citizens, so they try to get the most experience out of their two-year permit. In most cases, it means that they are not only attending classes full-time, but also working to financially support their entire family. DACA recipients can enroll in university classes, but in most states they are not eligible for in-state tuition. There are very few scholarship opportunities for these students. This is Oscar Hernandez.
15:40 Oscar Hernandez: Even with DACA, I remember I got a letter, my senior year of high school, everybody was applying to different colleges. I remember just being intimidated, because just looking at the tuition, even at in-state tuition. And someone who came from just a background where money was always kind of tight and we always had to worry about that kind of stuff. I remember looking at tuition prices and just asking myself, “How does anybody afford these kind of things? How is it that college is so expensive?”
16:06 Natalie Dowzicky: Nelcy Rocha was also unsure of how she would afford her college classes, but the opportunity to earn a degree was something her family had wanted since she arrived as a child and she was going to find a way to make her dream a reality.
16:23 Nelcy Rocha: It was on a weekend. It was on Friday.
16:25 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah.
16:25 Nelcy Rocha: So I had just finished helping my mom clean the house and then I was just laying in bed just on my Instagram just looking through my feed. Then I got that email from TheDream.US and I’m like. “Oh, what is this?” And I clicked on it and it said, “Congratulations!” Just reading that, I was like, “Mom!” I was screaming and I was crying, I was like… She’s like, “Que paso? Que paso?” I was like, “I got the scholarship!” She’s like, “What? What scholarship?” I’m like,” The scholarship that pays for almost everything.” And she’s like, “No, no, no, no te creo, no te creo.” I was like, “Yes, it’s true, read the email.” And she was like, “I can’t read this, it’s in English.” I was like reading it to her and translating it, I’m like, “See, I got the scholarship, I’m part of TheDream.US community now.” And she’s like, “No, oh my gosh.”
17:06 Nelcy Rocha: She’s like… We were crying and we prayed, and then I called my dad. I was screaming and my dad thought I was in an accident, a car accident. Because he’s like, “What happened?” And then I was like, “No,” and I explained everything. He’s like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe it.” He’s like, “I’m gonna leave work early. Then we’re gonna go eat somewhere out and celebrate for this.” And I was like, “Okay, yay!” And then we went to Olive Garden and celebrated. It was… Oh my God, I just couldn’t believe it. The next day, I was reading again, like, “No, I don’t think so. Is it a mistake? I just couldn’t believe it.”
17:38 Christian Aguierre: When DACA was first announced, I believe, the price used to be almost $500. At this point, it’s gone up. But I remember back then when I was only, not even 18 years old, I remember it was very hard to come up with that money, especially because I didn’t have a job. And so, after having DACA now, the renewal process became easier because obviously now I’m able to have a job and save up. And so every two years I know that that fee is coming up and so I start to save up.
18:16 Kevin Ortiz: The process of renewing this is something that is in the back of their minds. And instead of focusing on their studies, they’re focusing on, “When I get home is my mom gonna be there still? When I go home is my brother gonna make it home? Is my sister gonna make it home? Am I gonna be here tomorrow to continue to work and provide for my family?”
18:41 Ewaoluwa Ogundana: I think when we talk about DACA recipients, we focus a lot on just the people who have DACA, but I think it’s… I mean I’m always thinking about my parents because I wouldn’t be here and be where I am if it weren’t for them.
18:57 Natalie Dowzicky: Society is quick to blame the parents of Dreamers because they didn’t have the ability to make the life-altering decision of coming to America legally on their own. Dreamers are particularly grateful for the tough decisions their parents made on their behalf. They view the opportunity of living in America as priceless, and they are not sure how they will ever repay their parents for the incredible sacrifices they have made.
19:18 Kevin Ortiz: They’re not guilty of anything. All they did was provide for their family. And so, they are the original Dreamers. They are the ones who sacrificed everything and anything to give me and my siblings a better chance. So it burns me every time I hear people say, “These kids came here with no fault of their own,” which means that the fault is in their parents; absolutely not, absolutely not. My parents are brave individuals, they’re heroes, they sacrificed more than anyone whoever criticized them could ever sacrifice.
19:51 Natalie Dowzicky: However, Dreamers hesitate talking about their relatives because of the fear of exposing their families as undocumented. This is Jose Antonio Vargas, an author and filmmaker. He was born in the Philippines and came to America at the age of 12 to live with his grandparents. He revealed himself as undocumented in The New York Times in 2011, and has yet to be contacted by the United States government. He’s feared deportation for nine years.
20:15 Jose Antonio Vargas: I can’t tell people, I can’t talk about this. I’m gonna… Basically, I can never really reveal too much of myself to people. So when people ask questions like, “Hey, where’s your mom?” [20:31] ____. I learned not to talk about it, not to talk about… At one point, I even started saying that she was dead, which is awful. Right? And you don’t put pictures up, because when you put pictures up, people ask questions.
20:47 Kevin Ortiz: However, our community is resilient. Our community… We are resilient, we find ways to make lemonade with lemons based on whatever we are faced, and I am just in shock of how much we make from scratch.
21:00 Natalie Dowzicky: For good reason, America has been dubbed the Land of Opportunity. DACA has given that opportunity to many young immigrants.
21:08 Christian Aguierre: So DACA really has opened up the doors. Because when I was about to graduate from high school, I didn’t think I could go to a four-year school, I didn’t know that I could apply for scholarships, I didn’t know… I didn’t think that any of that was possible without a social security number. So DACA gave me that confidence that I’d be able to apply for colleges and scholarships.
21:32 Gaby Pacheco: When I think about DACA, I think about this whole idea that people have of, “Make the line. Why don’t they just get legal?” Well, if there was a way to make the line, and if there was a way to make yourself legal, people would do it. And DACA showed that, close to a million people made huge lines, [chuckle] and have been paying huge fees to be able to have what is practically just a work authorization card and a promise that for two years, you’ll have a defer of deportation and that’s it. DACA didn’t give anything else but that. And so, I feel like for us as undocumented people, as people that are immigrants in this country, our stories as Dreamers, but also the story of DACA shows the benefit that this country will have when you allow people to be their free full selves.
22:36 Kevin Ortiz: So, a lot of folks… Like you asked me, a lot of folks are going to college, a lot of DACA folks are starting their own businesses, a lot of folks are hiring US citizens, think about it that way. A lot of DACA folks are hiring US citizens and giving them jobs. So when we talk about removing this DACA and how the current administration’s talking about this, that is the big impact here, you will… It’s not just about the 700,000 DACA folks, it’s about the millions of US citizens and permanent residents who will be affected by the possible removal of these 700,000 individuals.
23:15 Natalie Dowzicky: In 2017, the Trump Administration decided to end the DACA program. This move was argued in front of the United States Supreme Court in November of 2019, after the lower courts tried to block Trump’s actions. No decision has been reached yet, which has left every DACA recipient on the edge of their seat. Next time on The Pursuit, Dreamers get a wake-up call.
23:41 Natalie Dowzicky: Thanks for listening to The Pursuit. If you like The Pursuit, please rate and subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast. The Pursuit is a project of libertarianism.org and the Cato Institute. Music by Cellophane Sam. If you’d like to learn about libertarianism, visit us at libertarianism.org.