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A decade after DACA, North Carolina DREAMers remain in limbo

Pax Ahimsa Gethen
Wikimedia Commons
DACA advocates are seen marching in support of continuing the program in this undated photo.

Today marks 10 years since the Obama Administration granted temporary protections to undocumented residents brought to the United States as children.

A decade later, an estimated 611,000 U.S. residents, including 24,000 people in North Carolina, remain part of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

The policy provides qualified applicants the right to live and work in the United States for two-year periods. Since DACA’s announcement on June 15, 2012, then President Barack Obama made clear that it was never meant as a long-term policy.

"This is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix,” Obama said in 2012. “This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.”

The fight for permanent legal status in the United States has now defined much of the lives of DACA recipients, also known as DREAMers after the DREAM Act failed to pass Congress. On average, DACA holders are about 26 years old, according to the Center for American Progress, and have spent two decades living in the United States.

Horacio Hernandez
Horacio Hernandez
Horacio Hernandez

Horacio Hernandez is one of those adults. At 24 years old, he has lived in North Carolina since his family immigrated from Mexico when he was 5.

"That's one thing I always think about, that without DACA I couldn't be employed where I'm at and living in the United States,” Hernandez said.

In high school, Hernandez described feeling demoralized and pessimistic about his future as an undocumented resident. The enactment of DACA provided him a pathway to become a software engineer with Red Ventures.

"The program is meant to be for people like me who just want to be successful, who were brought here as kids and you know, didn't really know what was happening at the time,” Hernandez said. “We didn't really have a choice. So I think I just want [them] to understand that this program is literally life changing."

When 24-year-old Liliana Cruz first received her DACA status, it allowed her to pursue a law career in Charlotte.

Liliana Cruz
Liliana Cruz

"I remember applying for DACA about 10 years ago. And it was a scary experience,” Cruz said. “However, holding the employment authorization and social security cards for the first time was like opening my entire world to new possibilities."

For North Carolinians like Yahel Flores, the past decade has also been one of uncertainty. The 28-year-old represents the Carolinas for the American Business Immigration Coalition.

"Ten years is a lot. There's a lot of things that's happened in the last 10 years. There's a lot of things that's happened in the last couple years, right,” Flores said. “So imagine 10 years for a DACA recipient that's always had this status in limbo."

Flores is spending the 10-year anniversary of DACA in Washington, D.C., with plans to meet with politicians about finding a permanent alternative to the policy.

"This is really a band-aid over something that needs to be more long term. Because we're here, we're contributing. Now we need an actual solid plan and we're really working on a dream act for the DREAMers, the Dream and Promise Act,” Flores said.

A solution from Congress would bring a sense of stability to DACA recipients like Cruz for the first time in their lives. She says DREAMers just want to live without fear and to have hope for their futures.

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Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health and Wells Fargo.