The Only Home They Know: Dreamers Face Uncertain Future

A Clark student rolls out of bed and prepares for her day. Between 20 credits and a full-time assistant manager job, free time is precious, but she still manages to go shopping and get coffee with her friends. In most ways, her life is the typical student experience. Yet for her it could be snatched away at any moment. One day, she might find herself in a country that is unfamiliar and hers in name only.

This student, a Dreamer, faces the uncertainty of DACA’s future under the Trump administration, which has announced its intentions to end the Obama-era program and is currently fighting a legal battle to do so. For now, existing DACA participants are safe from deportation and may renew their DACA status.

An estimated 689,000 people, including about 16,300 in Washington state, are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – a 2012 immigration policy granting immigrants in the U.S. who came as children work authorization and protection from deportation for a renewable period of two years, according to United States Citizen and Immigration Services.
Rosalba Pitkin, the Diversity Outreach Specialist at Clark’s Office of Diversity and Equity, spearheads outreach to Dreamers and immigrant populations attending the college.

Pitkin told the story of a 21-year-old Clark Dreamer who worked three jobs in order to pay her tuition. “She was scared to ask for financial help,” Pitkin said. “She was afraid it was going to affect her family.”

The father of another 19-year-old Clark Dreamer was detained by immigration officials and is awaiting deportation in Tacoma, forcing the student to care for his mother and three younger siblings, Pitkin said. His family moved from the home they could no longer afford, and he dropped two of his three classes to work full time.

The student reached out to Pitkin for guidance on financial and educational struggles, as well as a lawyer in the hopes of getting his father back. “He was desperate,” Pitkin said.

She said fear of deportation and insecurity are common among Dreamers and immigrant populations and that something needs to be done.

Pitkin said she would like to see a permanent, comprehensive solution to the legislative battle over DACA that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented people. She referenced the DREAM act – the legislative proposal that would grant undocumented minors permanent resident status – which Congress has introduced five times since 2001 and which Pitkin sees as a potential solution being dangled in front of Dreamers. “This is like an agony for these students,” she said. “Don’t play with the people who really need this opportunity.”

Pitkin, in conjunction with social outreach programs, legal clinics, churches and Clark College’s Dreamer Task Force, has been hosting public events to help connect Dreamers with free social and legal resources. These meetings provide assistance with asset protection, child custody and other legal contingency plans for a detention or deportation in the family, Pitkin said, as well as with DACA application and renewal.

One Running Start Dreamer at Clark, who will be identified as Ana, said she and her family are balancing the tension of their legal status with their pursuit of the quintessential American dream.

Ana’s family immigrated to Southern California from El Salvador when she was 1  year old. They held work visas, but stayed past their expiration date, she said. Ana and her sister went to private school while both parents worked such long hours that they considered moving back to El Salvador. However, her uncle — a legal U.S. resident — didn’t want the family moving back to El Salvador, a country suffering from gang violence. So Ana’s uncle offered her father a job at a tire factory in Battle Ground.

“My dad would grab a little bucket and a sponge and try to wash cars,” she said. Meanwhile, her mother was working overtime at Taco Bell to help make ends meet. “She’d come home and we’d be sleeping and then she’d leave before we woke up.”

Ana’s father met a wealthy benefactor at the tire factory who contacted him while he was unemployed and offered him a cleaning job. Her father seized the opportunity and began building and expanding a business.

“He started off just by himself and now he has several people who work for him or with him,” she said. “It’s just amazing to see how we’ve grown so much since then.” He now runs a car detailing business and is starting a second business while his wife has taken a position caring for seniors.

Ana is aware of the threat to her parents, both unprotected and undocumented. They hope that a productive role in the community will put them at lower risk for deportation, but have discussed plans to prepare for the worst. “If they were to get deported, just them … we’d probably stay here, live with uncles or something and just go to university.”

Ana juggles work, school and her social and family life, but unlike the average person, she said, these responsibilities are required to reduce their chances for deportation. “I know that they’d prefer it if they saw that I was a full-time student with an almost full-time job,” she said. “Just so that we don’t seem like we’re not contributing.”

She also takes care not to break the law, as a felony conviction, significant misdemeanor or three or more minor misdemeanors would disqualify her for DACA protection. She can’t participate in teenage shenanigans with her friends and has said to them “You’re putting yourself at risk, but you’ll get a fine and I’ll get DACA taken away.”

She plans to attend a University after Clark, but discovered the merit-based scholarship she was pursuing wasn’t available to non-citizens, and she was forced to settle for $4,000 less. There were some scholarships available to DACA students, she said, but they were raffle-based and offered less money.

Ana is looking for normalcy in the country that has been her home for as long as she can remember, yet if her DACA protections are rescinded she will be deported.  

Enrolling in DACA requires providing the government with personal information, encouraging Dreamers to come out from the shadows, but making them an easy target if their protections are rescinded. That concern gave Ana pause, but she submitted the application anyway, her need to work taking precedence over her fear.

Dean of Transitional English Communications and Humanities Jim Wilkins-Luton echoed President Bob Knight’s statements made during the State of the College Address. “We’re glad you’re here,” Wilkins-Luton said of Dreamers and international students. “We support you. We’re not giving out information about you that we shouldn’t. You’re safe here.”

The administration’s goal, he said, is to keep people conversant with ongoing changes to DACA, ensure that staff is aware of proper protocols relating to student privacy, keep students informed of their rights and connect students with outside resources.

Wilkins-Luton said his department has a bulletin board with information for Dreamers and international students. They posts flyers around campus and on bathroom doors, informing students of their rights. Though these flyers are often torn down, which Wilkins-Luton says is unique to the flyers aimed towards Dreamers, the Transitional Studies department continues to replace them. “If you want to open communication, you also need to be persistent.”

Wilkins-Luton said that the improvement of communication is important to address prejudice against Dreamers and international students. “My experience tells me that, in the absence of communication, fear grows in that vacuum.”


-Written by Joseph Defalco

One Comment

  1. Dick burns

    It appears that the “dreamers” are having a problem that four years in the marine Corp would long ago have helped alleviate. Although I am told that in today’s world with congress packed with whatevers that even after serving in the military citizenship once promised never seems to materialize……..

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