Vowing to Fulfill Young Immigrants’ Dreams

Francisco Curiel cannot wait to apply for DACA (Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

Francisco Curiel cannot wait to apply for DACA (Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

[Editor’s note: On Feb. 17, a federal judge in Texas ordered a halt to the implementation of President Obama’s immigration relief program.  In a statement, the New York Immigration Coalition said that immigrants and their allies viewed this as a “speed bump” on the road to relief for millions of immigrants. Steven Choi, executive director of the Coalition said: “While we expected these legal attacks to happen, we are confident that the president’s executive action on immigration will be upheld and put into motion shortly.” 

What follows are two stories from El Diario/La Prensa. In the first, by Cristina Loboguerrero, immigration advocates vow to continue preparations for implementation of the new programs. In the second story, published before the judge’s action, Zaira Cortés interviews two people who will qualify for the expanded DACA program.

From Feb. 17 through Feb. 20, El Diario, Univision and NALEO are offering guidance regarding President Obama’s immigration relief via a hotline.

El Diario has also published a guide for recipients of President Obama’s immigration relief: http://aliviomigratorio.eldiariony.com]

 

In spite of the ruling made by a Texas federal judge to temporarily block President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration, community organizations in New York encouraged immigrants to carry on with their preparations for when the measure takes effect.

The decision made by Judge Andrew S. Hanen, from the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas, momentarily stalls the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which would have come into effect tomorrow, and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which would start in May. It is estimated that the mesaure would benefit more than 300,000 New Yorkers and some 5 million undocumented immigrants nationwide.

“We New York immigrants are determined to continue getting ready for a prompt enforcement of the executive relief,” said Javier Valdés, co-director of Make the Road New York, who spoke on behalf of the organization’s 16,000 members.

Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said that “we trust that the president’s proposal will come true. We will not allow this politically-motivated injunction to affect immigrants, organizations and civil servants who are in favor, and this is why our communities will continue to prepare to apply for DACA and DAPA.”

Manuel Castro, a Mexican “Dreamer” and activist based in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, was not taken by surprise by the judge’s court order. Still, he said that “we hope that the decision is reversed, and we encourage people to stick to their plan to prepare for DACA and DAPA. That way, our community will be able to obtain work pemits avoid deportation.”

Meanwhile, Carlos Rojas, of the New Jersey DREAM Act Coalition, said that “the best way for our community to defend itself is to continue to be ready to apply when the moment arrives.”

Juan Cartagena, president of Latino Justice PRLDEF, said that the court’s decision is wrong and that “both the administration and the Department of Justice need to take immediate action and make a vigorous appeal.”

Similarly, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito deemed the judge’s decision as “unfortunate,” adding that “President Obama’s administrative relief plan is constitutional and necessary… This ruling by a Texas judge won’t deter advocates for immigration reform and we look forward to the courts reversing the ruling and affirming the president’s plan.”

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Alongside many other young Dreamers, 22-year-old Francisco Curiel raised his voice to demand immigration relief that allowed him to go to college, but the first Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program did not benefit him.

When DACA was passed in 2012, age requirements limiting the action to people under 31 who entered the U.S. before turning 16 left some 6 million undocumented youths behind. In Curiel’s case, these restrictions prevented him from qualifying. He would have had to be present in the U.S. before June 15, 2007, but Curiel arrived in New York from Mexico two months after that.

“It was devastating to realize that I would not be able to legalize my presence here just because of a couple of months. I was in limbo,” said Curiel. Francisco, who studies at Queens College, joined the organization Make the Road New York in 2008 to fight for more inclusive immigration relief. His despair at not being able to enjoy the fruits of his efforts faded away quickly when he saw the other activists standing strong.

“The people who did not benefit were desolate, but we always stuck together. We came back with more energetic demonstrations and demanded a less restrictive deferred action,” said Curiel.

Curiel and his fellow activists achieved their goal in November 2014, when President Barack Obama announced that he was expanding DACA. The new guidelines extend work permits from two to three years and eliminate the age requirement that accepted only people born before June 15, 1981. Also, the date of entry criterion ‒ which recognized only people who were present in U.S. soil before June 2007 ‒ was changed to Jan. 1, 2010.

“I am ready to apply for immigration relief. I am only waiting for the application date; I have all my documents,” said Curiel. “I am eager to get out of the shadows of illegal status.”

By having a work permit and a social security card, the young activist will enjoy the same employment and educational opportunities as his college peers. His short-term dream includes asserting his financial independence to help out at home.

“I was raised by a single mother who’s now looking after my teenage sister. It has been a tough journey for the three of us,” said Curiel. “Mom crossed the border leaving us in the care of uncles and aunts in Mexico. We then reunited with her in Queens. Family reunification is a priority for us.”

Francisco, who lives in Flushing, said that he changed majors from Business Management to Latin American Studies after his experience in activism.

“I want to be a part of the major changes happening in my community, and education is the key,” he said. “Immigration relief is a step, but the struggle does not end here. Our goal is to achieve inclusive and humane reform.”

Bearing the fruit of hard work and sacrifice

Johnny Bautista gladly works more than 60 hours per week while going to school to get a General Educational Development (GED) diploma. The 29-year-old Mexican is determined to benefit from DACA.

“Timing is crucial,” said the Soundview, Bronx, resident. “There are no other options for me. I must make the most of the immigration relief expansion right now.”

He did not meet the requirements for DACA the first time around. Now, his dream of getting a work permit and a social security card are about to come true.

Bautista came to the U.S. when he was 15, dazzled by the stories of abundance told by migrants from his hometown of Atlixco, Puebla. Once here, instead of signing up for high school, he dove into the tough labor market, pressed by the debt of his crossing fees and the cost of renting a place to live.

“I didn’t go to school. I had to work and assume adult responsibilities,” said Bautista. “I didn’t have a school certificate to show when DACA came up. It was a hard reality to face.”

In 2012, Bautista signed up for Asociación Tepeyac’s GED course, but he had to quit after five months. He found it impossible to combine school and his job at Tlaxcalli restaurant, where he has worked as a cook for nine years.

“It came to a point where I could not take it anymore, and I decided to stop trying,” said Bautista. “I was resigned to never getting a work permit.”

But President Obama’s expansion of DACA renewed his hopes to qualify. Now that age and date of entry restrictions have changed, Bautista has a new chance. However, to become eligible, he needs to fulfill the GED prerequisite, even if he does not have much time on his hands.

For the past four months, Bautista has attended afternoon GED classes at the Rafael Hernández school in the Bronx. He arrives at the restaurant at 5 a.m. three days per week in order to cover his hours and be able to leave early to go to class. His day ends at 9 p.m.

“It’s really hard,” said Bautista. “Anyone would think that it is impossible. There are days when I am so exhausted that I can’t stand up.”

Still, through frigid winds and winter blizzards, Bautista arrives punctually both at work and school. He has proven to himself that discipline bears fruit: In 2011, the traditional Mexican food he makes at Tlaxcalli restaurant was mentioned by The New York Times. Bautista took this accomplishment as a personal triumph due to his input on the menu while collaborating with owner Mauricio Gómez.

Gastronomy is not Bautista’s only passion. He uses the little spare time he has repairing phones and computers from his home as a side business, and dreams of enrolling in community college to specialize in computers when he gets his GED.

“I took online computer courses, but I want to have a formal college education,” he said. “I hope DACA will allow me to reach that goal.”

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