LOS ANGELES – Since September, undocumented adults living in America legally through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program have been in limbo.
The Obama-signed program protects from deportation “Dreamer” children who entered the United States more than a decade ago and have remained illegally. When the Trump administration last year announced March 5 as the end of the program, more than 700,000 people — many of whom have no home outside the country — saw their futures become uncertain.
After giving the government personal information on themselves and their families for vetting, and also applying and paying for renewal of their temporary status every two years, they had thought they would be able to live, work, and go to school in the United States indefinitely — not as citizens but also not illegally.
But the Trump administration has shown a commitment to ending DACA through federal courts, despite U.S. judges temporarily blocking the government from implementing the March deadline.
“I have felt a real fear, an incredible amount of pressure and fear, ever since September,” said Daishi Tanaka, a 20-year-old DACA recipient and Harvard University student born in Shizuoka Prefecture, about his state of mind since the announcement that DACA would come to an end.
While he is set to graduate next summer, DACA only protects Tanaka through February 2019 — preventing him from finding employment in the United States after graduation, even with a bachelor’s degree from Harvard. Tanaka, who is one of approximately 130 Japanese DACA recipients, lived in the United States without legal status for 12 years. His Japanese father and Filipino mother, who both have family living in the United States legally, brought Tanaka to Los Angeles as a 6-year-old.
He described the “tremendous discrimination” against half-Filipino children in the rural neighborhood in which they lived. Tanaka’s parents said he was bullied in kindergarten as a tall, chubby boy who “spoke better English than his teacher.”
He has not seen his parents — who initially returned separately to their home countries before his mother was later able to return to Shizuoka — since shortly before the 2016 presidential election.
Tanaka is unable to obtain a U.S. passport that would allow him to return after leaving the country, and his parents are not permitted to return after overstaying their visas.
Though they would like for him to live in Japan with them, Tanaka is steadfast in his desire to stay in the United States and eventually apply to law school — something he can do only if Congress agrees on a bill that would allow him to stay legally.
“He’s using us as hostages,” Tanaka said of President Donald Trump, who in January proposed a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants in exchange for $25 million in funding to reinforce the U.S.-Mexico border wall. “I think that it’s absolutely disgusting how politicians have played with us.”
Tanaka, who aspires to become an immigration lawyer, would not accept legal status if it means deporting undocumented parents of DACA recipients and others living and working in the United States illegally.
“You have to protect all of the (undocumented) 11 million in the country … who are being criminalized every day by the … words of Donald Trump,” said Tanaka, who plans to submit a renewal application that if accepted would allow him to stay beyond his graduation from Harvard next year.
Twenty-seven year old Daniel, a former DACA recipient from South Korea who asked that his name be concealed as he considers legal U.S. immigration options, similarly pursued his education and career in the United States alone.
For five years he was unable to see his parents, who had returned to South Korea after more than a decade of fighting for legal status in the United States following an unfulfilled promise of employer-sponsored visas. With DACA status, the consultant was able to obtain a master’s degree and a well-paid job in California.
“DACA was a huge game-changer in my life,” said Daniel. “For (Trump), it’s something on paper. But for (Dreamers), he’s ruining lives.”
When Trump promised to rescind DACA during his presidential campaign, Daniel became less sure about how long he could continue living in the United States. Unwilling to disrupt his career and return to a country that hasn’t been home for more than 17 years, Daniel obtained permanent residency in Canada. A month before Trump announced that DACA would be ending, seeing no better options, he moved to Ontario.
“I was prepared to say, ‘I don’t ever want to leave the U.S.,” said Daniel. “But when Trump got in the picture, that wasn’t conceivable anymore. “Maybe he’ll actually pull through and do something nice,” he said.
Currently, DACA recipients can apply for renewals as legal battles work their way through appeals courts and, eventually, the Supreme Court. But the government has stopped processing new applications, and Congress has not yet passed legislation that would allow DACA recipients to legally remain in the country and work.