The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protects certain immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children from deportation. It grants them a two-year reprieve that can be extended and issues a work permit and a Social Security number.
DACA recipients must be at least 15 years old when they apply. They must have arrived in the U.S. prior to their 16th birthday and must have been under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012. They cannot have a criminal record and must have continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007.
Immigrants who are accepted into the program and later get arrested face deportation to their home country.
The application costs nearly $500, and permits must be renewed every two years.
DACA does not give beneficiaries legal U.S. residency.
Source: Times Free Press archives
Jared Steiman, 20, remembers the day his wife, Alondra Gomez, received her employment authorization card. At the time, the 16-year-old Gomez ran into the Publix where Steiman worked, waving it around to show him.
Gomez, now 21, was authorized to work because her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals application was accepted. Gomez is undocumented.
"I still remember the day she got her work authorization and would be able to work," Steiman said. "But being able to go to school, that was the biggest thing."
It is this story — of the opportunities that DACA gave their little family, and what they have to lose after President Donald Trump's March 5 expiration deadline — that the young couple want to share with the community and lawmakers. And they want other DACA benefits recipients to share their stories, too.
Steiman and Gomez, local members of United We Dream, a national immigrant youth advocacy organization, hope to raise $4,600 by March 3 to fund a trip to Washington, D.C., for local DACA recipients so they can lobby lawmakers as they consider what's next after the program.
"I want other Chattanooga DACA recipients to have the opportunity to go to D.C. and stand up and share their stories," Steiman said.
The DACA program, created by President Barack Obama in 2012, protects from deportation certain young people who arrived in the country as children. It only grants a two-year reprieve, although that can be extended. The program issues recipients a work permit and a Social Security number so they can work and go to school.
In September 2017, Trump ended the DACA program and announced a six-month deadline for Congress to come up with an alternative or solution for the 800,000 people now in the program.
Recipients must meet an extensive number of requirements to be eligible for DACA, but the protected status allows them to attend school and work. In most states, including Tennessee, DACA recipients are not eligible for in-state college tuition, or for federal aid, limiting the educational opportunities available to them.
Gomez and Steiman both attended Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) programs at Chattanooga State after they graduated from Chattanooga's fine arts magnet, Center for Creative Arts. Steiman's training to be a motorcycle mechanic at TCAT was free. Gomez was not eligible for financial aid, but two days before she began a certified medical assistant program, she found out she had received a scholarship covering the cost of tuition.
"Being undocumented, you don't really know what you're going to do with your life," Gomez said. "DACA allowed me the opportunity to really come out as a person. I wouldn't be in school without it."
Areli Solorzano identifies with Gomez's struggle to obtain an education after high school. A Lee University graduate, Solorzano gives credit to God and her surrogate grandfather, Alan Derthick, for her good fortune to attend the school.
Solorzano came to the United States when she was 8 months old and moved to Chattanooga as a young girl with her mother and sister as they fled her abusive father. In Chattanooga, they found a surrogate family and through them Alan and Jane Derthick, her grandparents.
"My grandmother's last wish, on her deathbed, was for my grandfather to provide money for us to go to college," Solorzano said.
Since Trump rescinded DACA though, Solorzano has been unsure of where her future lies — she is considering applying for AmeriCorps, graduate school at Lee University, or taking a job overseas.
Solorzano is the type of young person that Gomez feels will benefit from an advocacy trip to D.C., by sharing her story with lawmakers personally.
"Alondra told me she saw some of herself in me," she said. "I used to be scared to say something, to reveal my status, but they need to know what is going on how else will they know what it's like to be in this situation?"
Gomez has traveled to D.C. with United We Dream twice — once last December and for more than a week this January with her husband. They spent their days visiting Congress member's offices, refusing to leave and sharing their experiences. Steiman was arrested on his wife's birthday, Jan. 16.
Steiman said it was a privilege — he could be arrested for protesting and not worrying about being deported.
Gomez hopes the community will be able to support other DACA recipients to visit D.C. and share their voice.
"I know Chattanooga is a great place for showing up, and social justice is a place where you should show up," Gomez said.
United We Dream is officially advocating for The Dream Act, or a similar piece of legislation, but several scenarios have been proposed, shot down or discussed by lawmakers.
"The climate now is that whatever legislation passes, it will probably have the same qualities of The Dream Act," Gomez said.
Whether that legislation looks like a path to citizenship, more legal protections, or other benefits, what Gomez wants most of all is certainty.
"It would just give so much more certainty to your life and your family and to communities," Gomez said. "Not just the immigrant community is affected by this we [immigrants] are a big part of America having a clean Dream Act would mean a lot to a lot of people."
Steiman, Gomez and other local DACA recipients and allies plan to hold a March For The Dream Act on March 3 at 6 p.m. Marchers will meet at City Hall. For now, the group hopes to raise $4,600 in the next week.
Several local photographers have offered to take senior or family portraits as a fundraiser. The suggested donation for senior portraits is $150, for families it is $250. For those interested in scheduling portraits, visit allisonkendrick.com.
To donate to the fundraiser, visit: http://bit.ly/2GHq9gD.
Contact Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592.