Washington dc – Angelica Villalobos still remembers the bumpy 16-hour bus ride she, her parents, and her four siblings made to reach the U.S. border 25 years ago.
The family, originally from the Mexican city of Guanajuato, crossed the Rio Grande River to finally reach the United States, where they hoped to start a new life with better opportunities. He was 11 years old and could not swim.
“It was scary,” Villalobos, now 36 and with five children of his own, told Al Jazeera in a phone interview in Oklahoma, where he now lives with his family. “Once we started walking down the river, I couldn’t get to land, so I had to hold on to someone else who dragged me.”
Villalobos obtained legal status in the US eight years ago deferred action for child arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era policy that gave him the right to remain and work legally in the United States, but not to obtain citizenship.
They are often known as Dreamers, recipients of DACA, who are currently over 640,000 nationwide: they have become active and vocal advocates of social justice and immigration reform.
Now, as thousands of unaccompanied migrant and minor families (many fleeing poverty and gang violence) arrive on the U.S.-Mexico border in search of protection, Dreamers say the harsh reception they have received these migrants contrast with the support they now enjoy.
“They are fleeing violence and many of these children are missing their parents,” Villalobos said. “We are no different from unaccompanied minors. They put us in a different class of people because they are newcomers, but we are no different. “
In February, Democrats introduced a Biden-backed immigration bill that would create an eight-year path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, as well as an accelerated citizenship program for the Dreamers. . Trump had tried to end DACA before the US The Supreme Court ruled against him.
But the recent rise in the number of migrants arriving on the southern border of the United States has put the Biden administration under control, and it appears that its plans for far-reaching immigration reform are stalled. In March, U.S. authorities captured him more than 172,000 migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border, the highest count in 15 years.
During a recent speech in Congress, Biden suggested addressing separate elements of his bill that are more likely to pass in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats have a narrow majority and a minimum of 10 Republican votes are needed.
“Now, look, if you don’t like my plan, let’s at least approve of what we all agree on: Congress needs to pass legislation this year to finally get protection for Dreamers, young people who have only known America as his home, Biden said during his April 28 speech.
But there have been recent signs that bipartisan support for the Dreamers may be wearing down. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently said Republicans are unlikely to support a separate bill for DACA recipients, without imposing tougher restrictions on the border.
“Well, all I can tell you is that everyone is sympathetic to the DACA issue,” McConnell said, according to the American newspaper The Hill. “I can’t imagine that we would accept an immigration-related bill, however worthy it may be … without insisting on our part to address the obvious border crisis.”
Defense of dreamers
The link Republicans make between the Dreamers and the political burden situation on the U.S.-Mexico border comes as American public opinion on the two issues differs widely. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center last year, it was found that 74% of Americans supported the permanent legal status of Dreamers in the United States, while a growing percentage of Americans are concerned about the arrival of migrants at the border.
Elise de Castillo, executive director of the Central American Center for Refugees, a New York State refugee support group, attributed the difference to the fact that the Dreamers have done a fantastic job over the past decade. “defending themselves.
The Dreamers have shown the American public “the ways in which they contribute to our country, our society and economy,” de Castillo told Al Jazeera, pointing to demonstrations, marches and campaigns on social media.
“That’s why this population is as strong as it is and has the support it has on both sides of the corridor,” he said. “The people at the border have not yet had that opportunity.”
Karen Herrera, a 29-year-old DACA recipient from Berkeley, California, who came to the United States from Mexico with her parents when she was three, attributed support to the Dreamers to the widespread belief that they were innocent children brought into the country. . by adults who broke the law. This idea does not necessarily translate into other categories of migrants, he said.
“For some reason within the Dreamer concept, there is a deviation of responsibility towards our parents, our caregivers. There is a kind of scapegoat mechanism, “Herrera told Al Jazeera.” I think that’s why the Dreamers’ narrative is so enjoyable. “
Diana Sanchez, co-founder of the Yonkers Sanctuary movement and former recipient of the DACA, said that for the program to go under former President Barack Obama, the narrative had to be framed around the idea that “it was our parents who who committed the crime “.
The 34-year-old said this argument had a profound effect on migrant communities: the parents of DACA recipients were left out of the program and remain undocumented.
He also promoted the idea that new migrants must meet a certain level before they are worthy of support, Sanchez said. To be eligible for DACA, applicants must be under the age of 18 when they arrived in the United States, have lived in the country continuously since their arrival, have no criminal record, and have a high school diploma or equivalent.
“Our parents were criminalized and new migrants are now criminalized in part because with DACA there is a need for perfection: students, young people, people who can contribute to American society,” Sanchez told Al Jazeera.
Fears in progress
Still, despite calling the United States for years, many Dreamers still face challenges in the country, including the fact that they still have to renew their status every two years.
Luz Ochoa was ten years old when she came to the United States with her parents from Colombia. The 31-year-old said there is a constant concern that DACA may be terminated, making her feel uncertain about the future. “There is a fear of being illegal again, [that] at any time we can be attacked and sent back to a country where I have not been since I was 10, ”Ochoa told Al Jazeera.
He added that while each migration history is different, travel is familiar in many ways.
“I remember coming here with just a backpack and that was all I had in there,” he said. “Leave everything behind and really just trust that the place you’re going to be will be better than the last.”