Lynn Dreamer's Future Uncertain with DACA in Limbo

ByGayla Cawley
KIPP Lynn students' hands raised

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LYNN — Dreamers like Annabelle Feliz, a 21-year-old undocumented immigrant from the Dominican Republic, are facing uncertain futures because a program that shields them from deportation is in political limbo.

Feliz, who is working two jobs to put herself through college, is a senior at Lesley University and will graduate next month. She attended KIPP Academy Lynn Middle School and St. Mary’s High School. She came to the United States from the Dominican Republic when she was 5 years old and moved to Lynn when she was 7.

The program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was established by executive authority from President Barack Obama in 2012, and has given hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, also known as Dreamers, a reprieve from deportation. President Donald Trump ordered an end to the program with a six-month delay in September.

But on Tuesday, a federal judge ruled against the Trump administration’s decision to end the program, calling the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) rationale against the program arbitrary and capricious. The judge wrote the decision to rescind DACA was unlawful and must be set aside. U.S. District Judge John D. Bates gave DHS 90 days “to better explain its view that DACA is unlawful,” leaving dreamers’ status uncertain.

“We are heartened by (Tuesday’s) DC Federal District Court decision on DACA,” said Richard Barth, KIPP CEO, in a statement. “It is clearly a temporary positive step, but uncertainty remains for our Dreamers. At KIPP, our policy objective remains the same — Congressional passage of a permanent legislative solution for Dreamers.”

Feliz took part in a conference call on Wednesday, as part of the KIPP National Day of Advocacy for Dreamers. Calls are being held across seven cities in support of Dreamers and DACA.

Feliz said she was always aware of her undocumented status, but it didn’t have much of an impact on her day-to-day life until she started to apply for college. When she learned about DACA, she realized she would be able to get her driver’s license and work under the program, things that her peers were doing, but weren’t an option for her.

She applied for DACA as a high school senior, a process she called overwhelming, as she suddenly went from an invisible person in American society to suddenly very visible with sharing her personal information and status with the U.S. government. Previously, Feliz had kept her undocumented status a secret, fearing arrest and deportation.

With the program, she was able to enroll at Lesley University. She commutes about an hour to Cambridge each day, and works two jobs to put herself through college. She isn’t eligible for federal financial aid because of her status.

What’s been difficult, Feliz said, is not being able to participate in college activities like her peers because of work responsibilities outside of school. She is studying business management with a focus in marketing and hopes to continue her education with a master’s degree.

With the district court decision, Feliz said she’ll be able to re-apply for DACA, but with her status in limbo because of the political impasse with the program, she’s facing a more uncertain future than her peers who are applying for jobs and preparing for life after graduation.

“When I think about the American Dream — the promise of creating a life for family and you — I worry that the promise is being taken away,” Feliz said. “DACA recipients are being used as a bargaining chip. The government needs to go further than just allowing people to apply for DACA. There needs to be a long-term resolution.

“We want to give Dreamers a chance to gain citizenship,” she continued. “We want a promise that our future can’t be taken away. We are working for a better tomorrow every day. All citizens need to let Congress know we need a permanent solution and we need it now.”

Alexis Rosado, KIPP through College Director for KIPP Massachusetts, said KIPP’s national day of action coincides with College Decision Day next Tuesday, which has become a day synonymous with celebration. But for students with undocumented status, she said the day has become more complicated and one filled with anxiety.

While their peers are spending their senior year negotiating with admissions offices and making sure they turn in all their documents, thousands of undocumented students are also calling lawyers in search of ways to pay for school without the help of federal financial aid or student loans.

Rosado said there are students and families who remain afraid to share their stories and status with KIPP. She said families are seeing their lives in the hands of lawmakers who are going in circles.

Rosado said DACA provides students with hope, safety and opportunity, which is now being diminished.

“We have a group of people who are actively disinvesting from the American Dream and that’s heartbreaking and I genuinely hope our politicians summon the courage to create a path for the Dreamers,” said Caleb Dolan, KIPP Massachusetts executive director.

The White House condemned the court ruling, with presidential press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders characterizing it as “good news” for smuggling organizations and criminal networks and “horrible news for our national security.”

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