When Shanique’s mother passed away in 2015, she couldn’t leave the United States for her funeral. Shanique immigrated from The Bahamas when she was 15, and ever since then, she has been “stuck” in the U.S. because of her DACAmented status.
“Although DACA has been a blessing, it has also been a bit of a thorn, I would say, in my flesh,” says Shanique, a MAF DACA fee assistance recipient. If Shanique had left the country to say goodbye to her mother, she would not have been allowed to return home to the United States.
This double-edged sword isn’t uncommon for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Since its inception in 2012, DACA has been a transformative program. It’s allowed Shanique and so many others to receive driver’s licenses, social security cards, and work permits. “If it was not for DACA, I would not have the job I have today,” says Shanique, who works as a hospital clerk.
DACA provided a kind of life-changing safety and security, according to Miguel, a fellow MAF DACA fee assistance recipient. “DACA was able to give me the ability to follow my dreams, to follow my career path, to not be afraid of being deported,” he says. The program gave him the means to pursue a career of advocacy, to fight for others like himself in his role as a nonprofit director.
“Prior to DACA, we always had to be in the shadows and we had to be afraid,” Miguel says. “And that’s no longer the case.”
But DACA was never meant to serve as a long-lasting solution for the thousands of undocumented immigrants in the country. When DACA was first announced in 2012, former president Obama called it a “temporary stopgap measure.” “This is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix,” he said.
In the decade since, DACA recipients have faced multiple hurdles — a federal judge challenging the program’s legitimacy, a months-long USCIS backlog jeopardizing renewals, and the $495 application fee, which remains one of the largest barriers to entry for low-income DACA applicants. And as DACA hits its 10-year-anniversary, DACA is closed to new applicants because of legal challenges. Even immigrants who can apply for renewals are still barred from various rights, like voting or being able to travel internationally.
“We’re constantly reminded of our status,” Shanique says. “Something as simple as seeing the word ‘temporary’ on your driver’s license is a little bit of a sting to the heart.”
That’s why a path to citizenship is so crucial — not just for the approximately 800,000 DACA recipients, but for all 11.4 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
“Actually creating a pathway to citizenship for the millions of people who are in the United States, who are contributing to this country, who are making this country better, would change the lives of people tenfold,” Miguel says. “Just look at someone like myself.”
Miguel recently became a permanent resident — a status change that isn’t an option for most DACA recipients. Becoming a permanent resident has allowed him not just to pursue his passions “unrestricted,” but to see his family in Mexico, whom he had been separated from for 32 years. “I moved here at the age of two. And because of my new status change, I went back to Mexico and met my family for the first time.”
Thirty-two years is an unconscionable amount of time to be separated from family. But a pathway to citizenship can reunite families and allow undocumented immigrants the right to vote, see loved ones, and live a private life of freedom. After a decade of DACA, a pathway to citizenship is long overdue.
“I feel like I’ve lived here long enough. This is the only home I know,” Shanique says. “I don’t even remember much of my life in The Bahamas. America has been my home.”
MAF stands in solidarity with DACA recipients, providing fee assistance so that the filing fee isn’t a barrier for those looking to apply for DACA. Since the DACA program began, MAF has provided loans and matching grants to people in 47 states and the District of Columbia. More than 11,000 DACA recipients have accessed MAF’s DACA fee assistance, including Miguel and Shanique.
If you’re eligible to apply for a DACA renewal, MAF offers fee assistance. Learn more and apply today!