'How can we live in the next six months without pressure?'
DACA recipients turn to lawyers, each other during period of uncertainty
On the morning of Sept. 5, doctoral student Osvaldo Sandoval went to teach his first class, Spanish 350 at 8 A.M., three hours before President Donald Trump would announce whether or not to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, or DACA.
Three hours came and went, and so did hope for DACA participants like Sandoval and doctoral student José Badillo Carlos around the nation.
Trump announced his decision to terminate the program. Immigrants like Sandoval and Badillo Carlos were left to wonder what to do next.
‘Why don’t they just get in line?’
Sandoval and Badillo Carlos were able to apply to the PhD program at MSU because of DACA, which provided them with renewable temporary legal residency.
Trump gave Congress six months to make a final decision on the executive order. But for now, their work permits are nonrenewable.
“How can we live in the next six months without pressure?” Sandoval said.
“Emotionally, morally, it affects us because the world keeps on moving,” Badillo Carlos said. “We can’t just stop everything to try and fix our issues, we also have obligations. ... How am I going to deal with this? What options do I have? Who do I talk to?”
Clinical Professor of Law & Director of the Immigration Law Clinic Veronica Thronson has been fielding phone calls for the last week from people who suddenly have unsure futures.
“A lot of people are scared,” Thronson said. She foresaw the program’s termination back when Trump was still campaigning for office. Through the Immigration Law Clinic she runs, Thronson and her law students are doing whatever they can to help.
“Right now, we’re really just trying to figure out what’s going to happen, who is being affected, how can we help,” she said. “Because we really have a very small window to help people who are able to get help.”
‘Why don’t they just get papers?’
Sandoval’s permit officially ends on May 4 and after that date, he will be unable to renew it. He now must rush to finish his dissertation in the legal time frame he has left.
“If we survived before, we can survive now, but we went into the PhD (program) because we just wanted to get a degree, to educate,” Sandoval said. “This is what we enjoy, we want to contribute to society and to our community. We can still live and survive undocumented, but that’s not the point, our education goes nowhere without the work permit or the legal status.”
His plans in the PhD program at MSU have been compromised; he worries about graduating on time, completing his dissertation and finishing his education.
Once his permit expires, Sandoval will be left without legal status or an ID. He won’t be able to work, or fly on an airplane if he wanted to visit family in his home state, California.
And according to Thronson, beginning the process of naturalization can be a difficult, lengthy and expensive process.
“We have to figure out how to survive when all we want to do is educate ourselves,” Badillo Carlos said. “We’re trying to be good citizens, we’re trying to better the community, better our lives, and with this it’s just hard to continue, it’s hard to focus on our own classes, our own research, our own teaching here because we have to figure out how we are going to survive after this ends.”
“If I go back to Mexico, I don’t even know where to start,” Sandoval said. “I don’t know how the system works over there anymore.”
‘Why don’t they just become U.S. citizens?’
MSU released a statement in support with the DACA program and undocumented immigrant students, as did many other organizations, including the Michigan Latino Legislative Caucus and the MSU Latino/Chicano student organization, Culturas de las Razas Unidas, or CRU.
“We’re not ‘bad hombres,’ like some people might call us,” Badillo Carlos said. “We are here to be better people, better educated. It’s comforting to know that the university has released a statement but I think there’s more to be done to get support for us.”
Badillo Carlos hopes that at the end of six months, or before then, that there is a bipartisan legislation that will fix the termination of DACA.
“By helping us, that would also help the economy because most of us are in our early twenties, early thirties, and demographically those are the consumers that are spending more money,” Badillo Carlos said. “We are Americans. I know more about American history, American culture than my own culture because I’ve been here my entire life. ... This is a humanitarian crisis right now.”
Sandoval has formed a family in the United States: he has a wife that is also under DACA and a daughter who was born here.
“Going back to our countries is like going back to a strange country,” Sandoval said. “It just gets harder, there are many factors that need to be considered and taken into action.”
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services, there are nearly 775,000 undocumented immigrants who have received relief from DACA in the country and more than 6,400 in the state of Michigan, but it’s not about the statistics.
“We are human too, we’re not just numbers,” Badillo Carlos said. “That’s what you hear in the news: 800,000, 700,000. We’re not numbers, we also have families that depend on us, we also have other needs, we also have other responsibilities.”
Sandoval hopes to see an end to the cycle of constant permit renewal and uncertainty.
“If we are given legal documentation, a working permit, our final goal is to go to the job market and be an instructor, do some research, publish on our topics at a four year university, that’s my goal,” Sandoval said.
“To stay in academia, in the school system, that’s my final goal, If not, I have no idea.”
But their main goal is to be able to continue their research, teaching and education.
“We were brought here as children, we grew up here, we adapted to the culture, to the language, we want to stay here, we’re not criminals, we’re not bad people,” Badillo Carlos said. “All we want to do is get an education and continue to help our families, our communities, just society in general.”
Thronson says there needs to be a long-term solution to the immigration system in the country.
“Our immigration system is so broken,” Thronson said. “People say, ‘Oh why don’t they just get in line? Or why don’t they just get papers? Why don’t they just become U.S. citizens?’ Like it was just that easy. And once you sit down with someone and explain how difficult the process is and how very few options there are for people who are undocumented then people are faced with that reality.”
CRU will be hosting an event soon to help spread the awareness and information on what the removal of DACA means to the student community. CRU Program Facilitator Tammi Cervantes said that students in the Latino community are scared and confused.
“There’s so many (DACA participants) and their contributions have been completely undeniable,” Cervantes said. “And it’s unfair to all of them, it’s unfair to the country, and to all the hard work because they came here as children and they have no fault.”
Badillo Carlos and Sandoval will continue to work towards their degrees and their futures, but now with uncertainty.
“At some point you get tired of getting false hope, and I say this because of what happened in the past,” Sandoval said. “When you think that they’re going to pass, for example the DREAM Act years ago, and nothing happens and then again, creating this false hope, and in the end we stay in the same condition.”
Editor's note: President Trump and Democratic Congressional leaders announced a plan to work together to support DACA recipients and increased border security late Wednesday. The announcement was made after publication of this article.