‘To us, this is home:’ SouthCoast residents under DACA fear for their futures

‘To us, this is home:’ SouthCoast residents under DACA fear for their futures

Image by Nina Strehl [link out]
Pricilla Gamboa, 21, lives in Fairhaven, goes to Bristol Community College and volunteers. Luis Gomez, 27, has his driver’s license, graduated from Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech and is in a five-year electrician apprenticeship program.

Yet Gamboa and Gomez have more in common than their commitment to charting a solid course for themselves. Both were brought into the United States illegally at a young age by their families and both are now under the umbrella of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

DACA, established five years ago by then-President Barack Obama, protects young people like them from being deported and allows them to work and go to school.

This article by first appeared in the Standard Times
on Sept. 6th, 2017 – HERE

But President Donald Trump’s move this week toward rescinding DACA has left the program’s future — and the future of Gomez and Gamboa and 800,000 others like them — in question.

If DACA is eliminated, they could be forced to live in a place that is at best a distant memory.

Pricilla Gamboa, who came to the United States from Mexico when she was 4, says “I really only remember my grandmother’s backyard. That’s my only memory.”

And Luis Gomez, who came from Guatemala when he was 8, said he had been living with his grandmother and didn’t really know his mother. She had come to the U.S. when he was young. One time, over the phone, she asked if he wanted to see her. “I didn’t know what that really meant,” he said. He found himself in a new country that became his home.

According to Helena DaSilva Hughes, executive director of the Immigrants’ Assistance Center, the center has helped approximately 200 people under DACA since 2012. That is based on the number of screenings to see if people qualify, referrals to the government website to apply and the number of people the office has helped with the application, she said.

DaSilva Hughes said the biggest fear for DACA recipients is the fear of the unknown and what could happen.

She said when the $495 application is submitted, “Now immigration has that extensive information regarding undocumented family and themselves.” Because of that, after Trump — whose campaign promises included stricter immigration rules — was elected, some recipients were afraid to renew their applications, she said. The center has done about eight renewals this year.

“They’re not trusting the government and they don’t know what will happen,” DaSilva Hughes said. And she doesn’t know what will happen either.

But with Trump’s election, “Immigration has been in the forefront all the time; that’s what’s giving me a little hope,” she said.

Timothy Paicopolos, staff attorney with Catholic Social Services of Fall River estimated from 2012 to 2014, via workshops throughout the SouthCoast and the Cape and Islands, CSS helped roughly 75 to 100 people with DACA.

Direct representation including an attorney-client relationship was provided to 75 people for DACA beginning in 2012 to this year. “We still have quite a few cases pending right now,” Paicopolos said.

Of the 75 people who received direct representation by CSS, 22 were from Portugal, 14 were from Brazil and 14 were from Honduras while the rest varied. Including repeat clients, CSS helped 124 people renew their applications.

“I know them as hard workers,” he said.

Those who have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or three or more misdemeanors aren’t eligible for DACA.

Gamboa hopes to become a paralegal and then apply to law school. She works as a waitress and as a legal office assistant. She also volunteers at the Community Economic Development Center (CEDC) of Southeastern Masscahusetts.

Her work permit expires April 2019. “After that, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said.

Last month, she sought permission to see her terminally ill grandmother in Mexico, but such applications are no longer being approved. She recalled losing her grandfather: “I had to say goodbye on FaceTime.”

Her grandmother had breast cancer and now has stage four lung cancer. “My only hope was actually being able to say goodbye to her,” she said.

For his part, Gomez said “I didn’t know that I was undocumented until 2007,” explaining his mom was working in the Michael Bianco factory the day of the raid on March 6, 2007.

She won her case and she was able to get residency, Gomez said, however, ICE came to their home a year or two later looking for his father who was working despite a holiday.

His dad ended up getting deported back to Guatemala where he remains today.

Gomez graduated from Voc-Tech with honors. He learned to speak English. He worked in a New Bedford fish house for about three years. He also joined The Student Immigrant Movement.

His goal is to become an electrician and he’s going into his second year of the apprenticeship. His work permit expires in November and he sent in an application for renewal a couple months ago, he said.

“I have potentially two years left. It could all be taken away; I could lose everything,” he said.

Upon being granted DACA, “I did feel at peace. I felt that I belonged here.” he said, adding he could drive with his new license without the fear of being pulled over.

However, with Trump’s push to end the program, “It’s just a reminder of how we’re not welcome here.”

“I think it’s time for Congress to act and take the next step to make the DREAM Act permanent,” said Corinn Williams, executive director of the CEDC. “This is a valuable program that shouldn’t be ended, it should be extended.”

“We’ve all grown up in America; we really don’t know our county. To us, this is home,” Gamboa said.

This article by first appeared in the Standard Times
on Sept. 6th, 2017 – HERE

Nina Strehl

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