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By Jackie Ramírez / Boyle Heights Beat
On a recent Sunday afternoon, hundreds of people crowded MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California, chanting, “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcomed here.” They were protesting the Trump administration’s September decision to repeal DACA (or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,) the legislation that enabled almost a million young people to get things like driver’s licenses and social security numbers.
(Editor’s note: The Trump Administration’s attempt was later stayed by a federal judge pending further legal appeal, but the Department Of Justice has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision. Many advocates are pushing for Congress to pass more permanent immigration protections for Dreamers as part of a federal budget deal, due tonight at midnight in order to avoid a government shutdown.)
Citlaly Medina, 20, waded through the crowd. She was there to defend DACA.
“This affects everyone is so many different levels,” she said. That legislation gave her the ability to work official jobs and consider college.
Medina waved a Mexican flag as she marched down Alvarado street. She said that she’s proud of her heritage, but is terrified of having to actually go back to where she was born.
“If they do repeal this, I would be forced to go back to a country that I don’t know,” she said. “I was seven months old and I never went back. I don’t know what it’s like to live in Mexico. I’ve never seen it. It would completely change my life.”
A week after the march, Medina walked through the downtown Santee Alley area, reflecting. At 14, Medina began to work at her dad’s cell phone accessory store. Then, at 17, she took a job at a nearby makeup shop.
“I was making about $60 a day, no lunch included,” she said. “No sick days, no benefits, no nothing.” She was still in high school, and making below minimum wage because she was undocumented.
And then, when she applied for DACA and got it, things changed.
“The very first thing that I loved about DACA,” she said, “was the feeling of sense of peace, and knowing that I was here legally; that it was something that had to be respected and as long as I did what I had to do, I was fine.”
It also made her feel that she had a future in the United States. Before DACA, she figured she’d wind up like her undocumented tía, who got a Master’s degree but couldn’t use it because of her legal status.
“To me, there was no point [in] going to school if I knew I couldn’t afford it,” she said, ”or if I knew that even if I did receive the degree, I wasn’t going to be able to use it.”
But after DACA, her perspective changed. Medina started going to community college and now has a job at a grocery store. “There’s a lot of perks working with a social [security number,]” she said. ”There’s unions, sick days, there’s benefits.”
On an early evening, Medina was sitting on her front porch. Cars passed by. Neighbors were out for walks. The sun was going down as she read her acceptance letter for her DACA renewal that came in an email a few months ago.
She read the letter aloud: ”Notice of Deferred Action,” it said. “This notice is to inform you regarding U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services decision on your form I-821D, consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.”
One word in particular stuck out.
“The alien’s change of address card,” she read.
It was the word alien.
“Using that word [is, in a way,] to make you seem nonhuman, [and] make it easier for people to be the way that they are with immigrants,” Medina said.
The recent political debate over the future of DACA has Medina feeling unsettled. She’s still going to community college, but she’s unsure about her future again.
“You’re putting so much time and effort into a degree and you’re expecting it to better your life and better your opportunities and everything,” she said. ”It would be really devastating if after all of this, the decision isn’t in our favor.”
In the beginning, DACA gave Medina a social security number, the ability to hold a formal job, and the motivation to actually go to college. It was a good deal, but now she feels like she signed her future away to the US government. She’s not sure what she’s going to get in return.
This story originally appeared in Boyle Heights Beat in Los Angeles. It was produced as a part of KCRW’s Boyle Heights youth radio project.