POLITICS

With DACA In Peril, Black Dreamers Are Hoping For Equality And The Ability To Stay

Black recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protection wait for the Supreme Court to decide their fate amid protests against racism.

Daisy hasn’t watched the video of a police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. She lives just outside Minneapolis and frequently goes to the area where the incident happened, and she doesn’t want to be reminded of it every time she’s nearby. 

But that doesn’t mean she isn’t thinking about it. Daisy, who is Black, has been to three protests against police brutality in the wake of Floyd’s death. But as she opposes racism, she’s also immersed in another harrowing struggle: Daisy is an undocumented immigrant, and she’s waiting to see if the Supreme Court will upend her life. 

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling this month on whether President Donald Trump can cancel the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which allows about 650,000 undocumented immigrants to live and work in the United States. Those individuals have been waiting for this decision for years ― from when Trump announced an end to the program in September 2017, to when a lower court blocked his action soon after, to when the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in November 2019.

While there are no official statistics on the ethnicity of DACA recipients, there are likely thousands of Black people with that status. About 11,000 DACA recipients came from countries where a majority of the emigrants who leave for the U.S. are Black. Like Daisy, many of them are balancing the agonizing wait for a Supreme Court ruling with a suddenly front-and-center movement against anti-Black racism ― not to mention a global pandemic. 

Daisy, whose last name is being withheld due to privacy and safety concerns, said she keeps an eye on news from the Supreme Court every Monday through DACA advocacy groups. For weeks, there’s been no decision. 

“Then we have six more days to breathe,” she said. “And then when Monday hits again, we will receive more news.”

The Journey To DACA 

Daisy came to the U.S. in May 2001 when she was 5 years old. She only faintly recalls the journey from East Africa to Minnesota. Her family stopped in Europe and then Chicago, finally arriving in Minneapolis, where she remains still after 19 years. 

In 2012, President Barack Obama announced the DACA program. It allows certain undocumented people who came to the U.S. before the age of 16, often referred to as Dreamers, to stay under temporary permits and to work legally. 

Daisy applied and became a DACA recipient at the age of 17 just as she was getting ready to embark on her college career. Along with two siblings who also are DACA recipients, Daisy had security in her future. 

That security was short-lived. 

On Sept. 5, 2017, the first day of the fall semester of her senior year at the University of Minnesota, the Trump administration announced it would be ending DACA. Daisy remembers that day well. She listened to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions make the announcement. She recalls going into a study room on campus and, much to her surprise, starting to cry. 

“I thought I wouldn’t get emotional, but I did get emotional,” Daisy said. “I ended up crying. This is a very emotional thing ― it takes a toll on people when it feels like people are playing with your future essentially.” 

Despite the newly heavy weight of uncertainty and even fear for the future, she went forward. 

“When I thought things through, I gathered myself and I told myself I would not let this bring me down,” she said. “That is what I remember from that day. But everything that has been going on with the DACA has motivated me to continue with my education, and it just reminded me that I am doing everything for a purpose, and that’s for the benefit of my community.” 

The DACA program isn’t perfect, Daisy noted. It applies only to those who came to the U.S. before their 16th birthday, were under the age of 31 when the program was created, and don’t have certain criminal records ― which leaves out many undocumented immigrants. 

“I don’t want to forget those people. They matter just as much as I do, and I am not more important than they are,” Daisy said. 

Still, DACA has allowed Daisy to live her life. Without it, she wouldn’t be able to work legally and could lose her driver’s license. Getting around in Minnesota without a driver’s license ― particularly in the winter ― wouldn’t be feasible. She’s not sure what she’d do. 

It’s not known how the Supreme Court will rule or how that decision will play out. Even if the justices hold that the president can end DACA, it’s likely recipients will be able to keep protections through their latest renewal period, and Congress might step in. Democratic lawmakers, along with some Republicans, have pushed for a path to citizenship for Dreamers for years, without success. Trump has voiced support for helping the Dreamers, but has always tied it to measures like a border wall, restrictions on asylum and other causes that immigrant advocacy groups oppose. 

“There’s been a lot of anxiety around whether or not we are gonna have DACA,” Daisy said. 

Supporting Black Lives Matter

Black undocumented immigrants are often overlooked, Daisy noted, because people think of the issue as being primarily about rights for Latinos. 

“For me being a Black woman, it’s hard because the world sees my blackness first and then they see my immigration status second, so I am oppressed in those two ways: as a Black person and as a DACA recipient,” she said. “To get my voice heard, it is difficult.”

Many undocumented activists have taken up the Black Lives Matter cause. United We Dream, a nationwide network of advocacy groups for undocumented young people, put together a resource guide for people joining protests and posted another guide on how non-Black undocumented young people can be allies to Black people in talking to their own families. Other immigrant rights groups have similarly collected resources to help undocumented protesters support the cause safely.

“We must be unequivocal when we say that Black lives matter,” Cristina Jiménez, executive director and co-founder of United We Dream, said in a statement. “It must mean that we are actively working to combat the White Supremacy that makes Black people plead for their humanity.”

One concern for undocumented immigrants is the presence of law enforcement from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and the Customs and Border Protection agency at some protests. An ICE spokeswoman told Roll Call that the agency was supporting local police and that its policy against enforcement at sensitive locations, including protests, was in effect. Democrats in Congress wrote to the Department of Homeland Security on June 5 to demand more information about the presence of ICE and CBP at protests. They have not received a response, according to the office of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), one of the leaders on the letter.

Daisy herself has been working to support the movement. Along with attending protests, she’s been volunteering in her community to help struggling local business owners and to serve at pop-up locations where people can donate food and clothing for those in need. Being at the protests and seeing how many people are engaged has given her hope for positive change.

“With everything going on, on Chicago and 38th, it really gives me hope that people are out there who do care and who won’t turn a blind eye when there is an injustice,” Daisy said. 

Although she feels exhausted and overwhelmed these days, she said she plans to continue advocating for herself and others.

“I am tired, but I have to be resilient,” Daisy said.

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