Young Immigrants Fight for a Clean DREAM Act

The Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance is on the front lines of the battle.

KSMODA Day of Action at Barney Allis Plaza. Photo courtesy of ksmoda.org

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump vowed to bring the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy to an end. On Sept. 5, 2017, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the rescission of that program, with a six-month delay in its termination to give Congress time to pass remedial legislation.

Now, DREAMers face an unpredictable future and the period of deferred action ends March 5. Immigrants and allies are working at all levels to let Congress know it needs to act. The Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance (KSMODA) is among the local groups working to get DREAM Act legislation passed.

 

National Day of Action for a Clean Dream Act in Washington, D.C.  Photo: Victor Morales

Who are DREAMers? What is DACA?

 As the last century turned, some lawmakers recognized that undocumented non-citizens of good character lived, worked and attended school in the United States who had been brought into the country as minors. A way to bring these people out of the shadows and put them on a path to permanent residency was sought.

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) first introduced the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) in 2001. Since then, several iterations of the act have been put forward, either as free-standing bills or as amendments to others. None of these bills was passed into law.

With slight variations, the basic provisions of the DREAM Act bills required that an applicant:

  • Be a minor when brought to the United States.
  • Have lived four consecutive years in the United States.
  • Have a high school diploma (or GED) or college admission.
  • Be of good moral character.

The legislation never passed, but many of the young people who would have benefited from it self-identify as DREAMers. Many DREAMers have spent most of their lives in the United States. They contribute to the economy and are law-abiding members of the communities where they reside.

Frustrated by the continuing DREAM Act failures in Congress, the Obama administration announced the DACA program on June 15, 2012. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting applications on Aug. 15, 2012, for deferments, which were available for renewal every two years.

DACA requirements were similar to those in the DREAM Act bills, but with different and more specific conditions regarding age, entry date, and military and criminal records. (See USCIS page at goo.gl/aycshS.)

Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance

In February 2009, just before the introduction of the second DREAM Act bill, the Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance (KSMODA) came into being as a youth-led, nonprofit organization to support DREAMers in the bi-state area.

KSMODA is pushing for a new DREAM Act to be passed as soon as possible. The ideal law would be a stand-alone piece of legislation without amendments – in other words, a “clean” DREAM Act.

KSMODA’s mission includes advocating for immigrant rights and for higher education for immigrant and minority youth, regardless of citizenship status, sexual orientation, race, color, gender, and national or ethnic origin.

Its office is in the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City, 107 W. 10th St, Kansas City, Mo. It holds meetings every other Thursday at the Chamber. When the Chamber is not available, KSMODA meets at El Centro Inc., 650 Minnesota Ave, Kansas City, Kan., a group that it partners with in many efforts. KSMODA is an affiliate of United We Dream.

 

Victor Morales, Ana Jimenez and Alex Martinez at the U.S. Capitol for National Day of Action for a Clean Dream Act.  Photo: Victor Morales

KSMODA Co-director Alex Martinez spent his early years in Mexico with his grandparents. He crossed the desert to enter the United States at age 14. Martinez explained that through partnerships with El Centro and other organizations, KSMODA has been able to provide free assistance for DACA renewals, citizenship visas and other legal advice. Without the aid of programs like DACA, undocumented and unaccompanied minors often could not attend school or receive help from social programs.

“Being undocumented limits you,” said Martinez. Even so, though, “many undocumented people are doing great things.”

“I’ve been here half of my life,” Martinez said. “This is the only country I know. It is cruel and it’s racist for this administration to try to send me back to a place that’s unfamiliar to me. DACA gave me a lot of opportunities: I am able to work and drive legally, pay taxes and contribute to the economy and society. Isn’t that what being an American is all about? Without DACA, which is set to expire in March of 2018, or any other congressional fix like the DREAM Act, I face uncertainty. I will no longer be able to legally work, drive or do a lot of the many things I do in my daily life. That’s why it is so important for people to support us and not let this administration win. I am not going anywhere. I am here to stay.”

Some DREAMers, like Martinez, have work permits that will be allowed to expire at their currently assigned expiration dates (after the March deadline); his expires in March 2019. However, others need immediate relief. Each day that Congress delays passing a DREAM Act, around 122 young people lose their DACA protections.

DACA Numbers

About 788,000 immigrants have had their DACA applications approved, according to the USCIS. A poll from the Center for American Progress reports that 90 percent of DACA recipients are employed, about 72 percent are enrolled in higher education, and nearly 80 percent obtained driver’s licenses after receiving DACA. The center estimates that without DACA, the United States would lose around $460 billion in GDP over 10 years and about 700,000 people could become unemployed.

Some Recent KSMODA Activities

June 24 – Film screening: Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America, Out Here Now film festival.

Aug. 15 – Fifth anniversary of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services accepting DACA applications, Vietnam Memorial rally.

Sept. 5 – DACA termination announcement, Mill Creek Park protest rally.

Oct. 1 – Free DACA renewal clinic, with some scholarships available to cover $495 processing costs, Kansas City Center for Inclusion.

Nov. 6 – KSMODA’s Day of Action, Barney Allis Plaza.

Nov. 18 – Friendsgiving for a Clean Dream Act, Village Presbyterian Church.

Dec. 1 – Dream Fighters Coalition signature collection, First Friday in the Crossroads

Dream Fighters Coalition First Friday in the Crossroads. Photo: Ellis Gilham

Members of the Dream Fighters Coalition are KS/MO Dream Alliance, Showing Up for Racial Justice-Kansas City, People Power KC, ACLU of Missouri, KC Metro Immigration Alliance (KC MÍA), Reale Justice Network, One Struggle KC and others.

Become an Ally; Lend Your Voice

Alex Martinez says, “Please get to know us; we are your neighbors, your students and your friends. A document does not define who we are. We are just like you. If you want to support our cause, come to our meetings, like our content on social media, pick up the phone and contact your representatives. You hold so much power. Exercise it. It’s your right to do so.”

Web

Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance: KSMODA.org and facebook.com/ksMODA/

El Centro Inc.: ElCentroInc.com

Dream Fighters Coalition: facebook.com/DreamFightersCoalition/

United We Dream: UnitedWeDream.org

Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project – unitedwedream.org/our-work/lgbtq-justice

 

Bradley Osborn

Brad has been writing for Camp since 2004. His beat is mostly local features and general LGBT news. Common topics have included youth, faith and community. Although he holds an M.A. in journalism, he primarily considers himself to be a chemist, having studied and worked in biochemistry, quantitative analysis, quality assurance and the production of educational science texts. He's laconic, unintentionally enigmatic and often facetious. He enjoys irony, as well as things – but not animals, apparently – that are simultaneously beautiful and utilitarian. He and his cat, Charlie Parker, reside in downtown Kansas City, Mo. If you have a story idea for Brad, send him a note at bosborn@campkc.com.