The faces behind DACA (includes video stories)

Jessica Perez Castaneda, 30, has lived in the United States for 25 years in a constant state of fear. 

About 650,000 young immigrants in the United States are in a situation similar to hers. Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, they’re protected from deportation and are allowed to work and have a Social Security number, although they have to file paperwork every two years to continue working and studying in the U.S. They are commonly referred to as “Dreamers,” based on the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a proposal that was never passed in Congress and would have provided similar protections as DACA. 

“DACA is just a temporary fix and we need the DREAM Act to pass to give us more stability and peace of mind,” Perez Castaneda said. “This is something that I think about every day and it affects me emotionally.”

President Barack Obama started the program in 2012 as an executive memo, but it doesn’t provide “Dreamers” a pathway to citizenship.

Recipients were close to losing their DACA benefits in 2017, when President Donald Trump tried to end the program, claiming that it was unconstitutional.

On June 18, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Trump Administration’s attempt to eliminate DACA. This ruling affects more than 25,000 Florida residents, allowing them to continue living without fear of immediate deportation.

The Supreme Court ruled that the way the administration tried to revoke DACA in 2017 violated a federal statute but didn’t weigh in on whether DACA was unconstitutional. This means the administration can still try to find a way to eliminate it.

While President Trump has said he wants to find DACA recipients a legal pathway to citizenship, he also tweeted his intentions to do away with the program, saying it’s Congress’s job to find a way to grant them permanent legal status.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), if a person meets the following guidelines they are eligible to apply for DACA:

1. Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012

2. Came to the United States before reaching your 16th birthday

3. Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time

4. Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making your request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS

5. Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012

6. Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and

7. Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Rafael J. Borras, a trial attorney based in Texas, said USCIS is expected to accept DACA renewals and new applications. He said the Supreme Court’s decision vacated the executive action that President Trump took in 2017, so the agency would be violating the law if it doesn’t accept applications.

DACA Recipients Answer Your Questions

What is DACA?
Solimar Alvarado Rojas, DACA recipient – 22 years old, Costa Rica, came at 1 year old

Do DACA recipients cut the line when it comes to citizenship? Is there a pathway to citizenship?
Jessica Perez Castaneda, DACA recipient – 30 years old, Venezuela, came at 5 years old

How does it feel to be a DACA recipient?
Josue Lopez, DACA Recipient – 25 years old, Honduras, came at 9 years old

Did all DACA recipients come to the country through the border? Do all DACA students automatically receive federal aid?
Al D’Amico, DACA recipient – 29 years old, Uruguay, came at 11 years old

Alejandra Marquez Janse is a Venezuelan journalism student minoring in political science. She is passionate about understanding policy and informing people on issues that affect them.

Kaylee Padron is a senior and transfer from UNC Chapel Hill. She is a journalism major and social media e-marketing minor. When she’s not writing, you can find her watching baseball.