DREAMers face anxiety, terror amid back-and-forth on DACA

The end of DACA and an ongoing back and forth have left young undocumented immigrants feeling anxious and afraid -- but some are fighting back.

In this Sept. 1, 2017 file photo, Loyola Marymount University student and dreamer Maria Carolina Gomez joins a rally in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, outside the Edward Roybal Federal Building in Los Angeles. CREDIT: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File
In this Sept. 1, 2017 file photo, Loyola Marymount University student and dreamer Maria Carolina Gomez joins a rally in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, outside the Edward Roybal Federal Building in Los Angeles. CREDIT: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File

Late last Wednesday evening, news broke that President Donald Trump had brokered a deal with Democratic leaders to protect many young undocumented immigrants from deportation. By Thursday morning, that security seemed once more in question, only to shift again over the course of the weekend, as officials gave differing accounts of the conversation that took place — a back and forth further heightening the sense of precariousness many undocumented immigrants already feel.

Earlier this month, Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, implementing a six-month delay before its official end. DACA, created in 2012 under an executive order by former President Barack Obama, temporarily shielded many young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. The program’s beneficiaries, also called DREAMers (a reference to the often-floated but never passed DREAM Act), underwent an intensive process to enroll in DACA, handing over private information to the government. That act required a leap of faith; by giving officials names, addresses, and other personal details, DREAMers and their families chose to put their trust in officials, despite the risks.

Now, that trust has come back to haunt them.

“It’s very scary, in certain times,” Fernanda Alonso, 18, told ThinkProgress. “I don’t speak for all the DREAMers but we’re just very anxious. Now that they’ve rescinded it and it’s going to end… they have all our information and that’s always in the back of everyone’s heads, no matter what’s going to happen.”

DACA recipients around the country responded with outrage following Trump’s initial announcement. A number of DREAMers, along with several allies, were arrested outside of the Trump Tower hours after the decision was confirmed.

“It’s overwhelming, so much that for a long time I hid myself, but I’m tired of hiding, and the country needs to know that they need us,” Dulce Gomez, a 19-year-old activist, told Mother Jones. “Our pain is not only for ourselves, but our families.”

But initial terror over the program’s end has quickly spiraled into confusion. Last Wednesday, numerous news outlets reported that top Democratic leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had brokered a deal with Trump to protect DREAMers — one that included a border security package but no funding for Trump’s long-proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. In a joint statement, Pelosi and Schumer hailed their “very productive” dinner meeting with Trump.

“We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides,” the duo confirmed.

That announcement was seemingly walked back a short time later, when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took to Twitter. “While DACA and border security were both discussed, excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to,” she wrote.

Trump later added to the confusion in a series of tweets. “No deal was made last night on DACA,” the president wrote the next morning. “Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent. Would be subject to vote.”

That was at 6:11 a.m. on Thursday. By 6:20 a.m., Trump was back, asserting that his border wall would in fact be built. Eight minutes later, his tone appeared to change again with a tweet implying that deporting DREAMers who “have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own” wasn’t a desirable outcome for any party involved.

Confusion only grew as the day continued. “We’re working on a plan — subject to getting massive border controls,” Trump told reporters as he bordered Air Force One. “We’re working on a plan for DACA.”

“People want to see that happen,” Trump said, again in reference to DACA. “You have 800,000 young people, brought here, no fault of their own. So we’re working on a plan, we’ll see how it works out. We’re going to get massive border security as part of that. And I think something can happen, we’ll see what happens, but something will happen.”

But waiting for something to happen is cold comfort to DREAMers, many of whom feel lost in limbo. Waking up to news that DACA was rescinded was traumatic for many recipients, but the back and forth between policymakers has also proven to be an ordeal itself.

The government can do whatever it wants, just because it’s the government… you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Alonso said. “It really takes a toll on our mental health. Most DACA recipients have anxiety or depression. It takes a toll mentally and emotionally.”

Alonso, who currently attends a community college in Kansas, noted that the confusion has made life even more stressful for DREAMers.

It’s just having that anxiety,” she continued. “The six months of waiting… Only people in Congress knows what’s going to happen. We don’t know what’s going to happen. He had this dinner with Democrats, there were these tweets, but we wake up the next day and then there’s no plan. It’s toying with our anxiety and the hopes we had.”

Some aren’t willing to wait. A number of lawsuits have already been brought against the Trump administration challenging the end of DACA, all of which argue that the administration’s decision to revoke a promise made to a group of people violated their right to due process. On Monday, six DREAMers filed one of their own — something 26-year-old Viridiana Chabolla Mendoza, one of the plaintiffs, said was part of a larger effort to combat anxiety and regain a sense of control.

“Honestly, this is something I’ve been dreading since the election,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “In my mind, I’ve tried to keep a positive frame of mind, like, we’ll be OK and push for larger immigration reform. Once there started being more concrete rumors about DACA being rescinded, I started being really anxious… But I knew my next action would be to fight.”

For other DREAMers, legal action may not be immediately feasible, but Alonso said she is trying to find other ways to feel empowered and support her fellow DREAMers.

“We try to support each other,” she said. “I go to school, but every other day I see things [people are doing.] I want my peers to have access to things while they can. I want us to take advantage of things. I have friends who are scared. I tell them, if it’s going to end, still make it work right now. Every other day I tell my friends to have a good day, keep that support and love. That’s the foundation of everything. That’s what we really need right now.”

Still, she said, the mixed messages and confusion surrounding the program’s end are only making it harder for DREAMers, who are already contending with an uncertain future. More than anything, she explained, DACA recipients are struggling with a sense of injustice.

“It’s really scary knowing the government has all our info,” Alonso said. “We try to be model citizens. It’s not what we deserve. It sucks. They give you a deadline, you follow all the rules… and it’s still not enough.”