A recent nursing graduate, a new mom working two jobs, the head of a department at Southview Medical Center and a small business owner.
These are some of the hundreds of local people who are living in limbo while politicians in Washington argue over immigration reform. They are Dreamers, the name commonly given to those with deferred deportation status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy that was enacted by the Obama administration.
Unless a permanent solution is agreed to by Congress in the coming months, the roughly 700,000 people with DACA status nationwide will lose their ability to keep a driver’s license, be employed and stay in school. Without DACA, they could be deported to Mexico or Bolivia or Trinidad — countries many of them barely remember.
Fernando Valdez of Fairborn came to the United States from Mexico with his parents at the age of 13. He’s now 31, has his own trucking company, and is married with three children.
“They’re treating us like objects,” Valdez told this newspaper. “I didn’t ask to come here… I don’t have anything to go back to.”
Brother and sister Shane and Sasha Mangroo of Franklin were just children when they arrived from Trinidad in 2000. Sasha was 5 and Shane 8 or 9. DACA allowed her to graduate from college, and both appear on their way toward promising careers in the health care field. But with so much uncertainty over the program’s future, they worry about getting deported.
“They’re tossing it back and forth and using it as a bargaining chip,” Shane Mangroo said of Congress. “They really are playing with people’s lives.”
For Jazmina Mamani of Kettering, coming to the U.S. was literally a matter of life and death. Severely burned on her chest, neck and face from a kerosene lamp accident at age 6 in her native Bolivia, missionaries from Ohio arranged for her to get needed surgeries in Cincinnati and later brought her to live with them in the Dayton area.
Now 30, she has a full-time job, volunteers at her church and proclaims herself a patriotic American despite facing possible deportation.
“You have to learn how to survive, Mamani said. “You live in constant fear.”
The so-called Dreamers — a label spun from the proposed DREAM Act — are spread across America, with California and Texas having the largest concentration. When the Trump administration decided to end DACA in September, there were nearly 690,000 individuals granted deferred status nationwide, including 4,000 in Ohio, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
They are often referred to as DACA “kids,” but they are not children for the most part — the median age is 23 — and they’re not all from Mexico, another popular misconception. Although nearly eight in 10 were born in Mexico, other common birth countries include El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, South Korea, and Brazil.
Ohio isn’t a major destination point, but about 1,800 DACA recipients live in the Columbus area and about 1,000 in the Cincinnati tri-state metro area, according to USCIS. The agency doesn’t keep data on how many live in smaller metro areas like Dayton, but local immigration attorneys estimated there are at least several hundred.
In addition to the 4,000 Ohioans on DACA status, the Migration Policy Institute estimates that another 9,000 in the state meet the criteria to apply.
A federal court order resumed the processing of DACA renewals in January. But USCIS will not accept any new DACA requests from people who have never before been granted deferred status.
Those covered by DACA don’t know how long that order will stay in place or if they’ll be able to renew for another two years in the future.
“It’s still a numbers game and everybody is still in limbo,” said Karen Bradley, a Dayton immigration attorney. “It’s sad that this is the leverage that’s being used.”
‘DACA made me become someone’
Fernando Valdez said a loss of his DACA status would mean the loss of his driver’s license. And for him, that license is his entire livelihood.
He founded his own trucking company, Valdez Brothers, after DACA status paved the way for him to get a CDL license. That meant he could embark on a real career for the first time in his life.
“I always wanted to be someone,” he said. “DACA made me become someone.”
As a teen, he lived with his family in Chicago until meeting and marrying his wife, Miriam Luna. They moved to Columbus when he was 18, and now live in Fairborn, where they are raising their three children: Kimberly, 8; Fernando, 5; and Jordan, 3
For years Valdez said he took whatever job he could and hoped his lie about being a legal U.S. resident wasn’t questioned. He installed carpet and flooring, worked in construction and as a mechanic.
“A little bit of everything,” he said.
His deferred status was renewed last year and now runs through 2019. He said DACA has allowed him to build a business in an in-demand career field, and provide for his family.
Like others who were interviewed for this story, he said the uncertainty is causing anxiety.
“Whatever they come up with is going to be better than nothing,” he said.
‘I’ve actually liked paying taxes’
Growing up in Franklin, Shane Mangroo and his sister Sasha would always give the same vague answer when asked about their family’s citizenship status: “We’re just waiting.”
With the future of DACA in jeopardy, that wait has become torturous, Shane said.
Their status as undocumented immigrants from Trinidad didn’t have much impact on the siblings until it was time to graduate from high school.
While their friends got drivers’ licenses and went on college visits, they just shrugged and played it off like that wasn’t for them. Shane’s reluctance to apply for college baffled his teachers, who knew him as a smart kid with an interest in engineering.
“It wasn’t talked about,” he said. “No one would have suspected.”
With deferred status under DACA, Sasha was able to attend Wright State University and get a nursing degree. She had a job lined up as an intensive care nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital before it was announced this month that the facility will be closed.
Shane got a job with Kettering Health Network and now works as the coordinator of the registration department at Southview.
His deferred status gave him a sense of legitimacy, as someone who is contributing to his community.
“For the past four years I’ve actually liked paying taxes because I actually feel like I’m part of the system,” he said. “I just got a promotion at work and I am really excited about it.” His DACA status expires in March 2019, however, so termination of the program could mean he has to step down from that job.
Sasha’s status expires in October of this year, which could jeopardize her plans to attend graduate school.
“It’s very uncomfortable being in this situation,” she said.
‘Pretend you’re asleep’
Maria Roque-Rivera was 7 years old when she and her two younger siblings were loaded into the back of a vehicle with a woman they didn’t know and headed toward the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
When they got there, the woman told her, “I need you to pretend you’re asleep.” Maria had no idea she was about to enter a country she’d call home for the next 17 years, or that on that very day — Sept. 11, 2001 — that country was under attack.
“I had no clue what was going on,” she said.
The children were eventually reunited with their mother, who had crossed the Rio Grande, and their father, who was already in the country; they grew up in the Dayton area, where cousins were living.
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Now 23, Maria says as a kid she was warned not to tell anyone where she came from because the information could get her parents deported.
College, she assumed, was out of the question, even as she accumulated an impressive high school resume that included sports, student council and the honor society.
The Obama administration’s executive decision creating DACA has been controversial ever since — and some argue it was illegal. But to Roque-Rivera, it was an answer to her prayers.
After attending Clark State Community College and Sinclair Community College, she is now enrolled at the University of Cincinnati in a certificate program for animation.
“I want to be a comic book artist,” she said. “That’s been my dream and that’s been what I’m trying to work toward. Having DACA means the world to me.”
‘We were hiding’
DACA gave Adriana Lopez, 21, an opportunity she thought she’d never have when her family came from Mexico when she was 6 years old.
“We were hiding,” she said. “People are afraid to go to the doctor.”
She grew up in New Carlisle but dropped out of Tecumseh High School during her freshman year. She said she didn’t see any point in finishing school if she wasn’t going to be able to work a good-paying job or go to college.
After DACA became law, she re-enrolled and finished on the honor roll while studying cosmetology at the Clark County Career Technology Center.
She now works two jobs — at Sprint and at a hair salon — and she just had a baby girl.
The uncertainty over DACA has created uncertainty in her own life. Her deferred status runs out one month before she’ll need to renew her cosmetology license in February 2019.
Polls generally show a majority of Americans support DACA. A CBS News poll released Jan. 14 found 70 percent favor allowing Dreamers to stay in the country.
President Donald Trump has expressed support for DACA at times, but says he wants to make the issue part of a larger immigration measure that includes money for a border wall. Other Republicans say fixing the country’s “broken” immigration system should be Congress’ priority.
Support for DACA among university presidents is almost universal, and several local college leaders have urged Congress to find a solution.
”These students have enriched the learning environment and brought a wide array of talents and abilities to our state and nation,” Miami University President Gregory Crawford said in September.
Crawford, along with President Cynthia Jackson-Hammond of Central State University and President Cheryl Schrader of Wright State, signed a letter to congressional leaders denouncing the termination of the DACA program.
DACA students do not qualify for federal financial aid, but many have received money for college through private scholarships or university aid.
University of Dayton President Eric Spina recently tweeted: “We stand with our Dreamers for gifts and talents they offer to US; we urge President and Congress to take appropriate action to keep them here.”
Although there is some disagreement among Republicans in Congress over DACA, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he supports finding a solution that would protect those in limbo.
“Rob believes that those in the DACA program are here through no fault of their own, and supports bipartisan efforts to find a permanent solution that will allow those in the DACA program to stay here and continue to contribute to our society,” said Emily Benavides, Portman’s deputy communications director. “There are ongoing bipartisan discussions about DACA — stronger border security measures and additional enforcement tools — and Rob hopes those discussions are successful.”
‘I don’t know anything else’
Several of the Dreamers interviewed for this story said they are fearful of returning to their birth country.
Jazmina Mamani was 8 years old when she first came to the United States, arriving on a visa because she needed medical care for her burn injuries. After she returned to Bolivia her mother died and her father abandoned the family. Not long after, the Americans she considers her parents brought her to Ohio, and she has now lived in the Dayton area for roughly two decades.
DACA gave her the freedom to be able to attend college for biblical studies, get a job and a driver’s license. But it also made her more visible, and for undocumented immigrants that can be unsettling. Not only does the government knows who she is, it knows where she lives. If no permanent DACA solution is agreed upon, she won’t be hard to find.
Bolivia is a third-world country that Mamani knows nothing about. Her Spanish has become broken and native speakers say she sounds like a “gringa,” or someone from America trying to speak Spanish.
“I wouldn’t know how to get a job there,” she said. “I don’t know anything else but here.”