A Step Toward Security

Karen Zhou

Dario Guerrero-Meneses ’15 pulled an all-nighter on August 15, filling out his application for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program the day it came out.

“I stayed up and I got everything done and in the morning I got up and took it to the mail,” he said.

Guerrero-Meneses came to the United States from Mexico with his parents when he was two years old on a tourist visa meant for a wedding. They never left, and once the visa expired, they couldn’t renew it. That’s when they became undocumented.

Now under DACA, a program announced June 15 by the Department of Homeland Security, Guerrero-Meneses and about a million other young people who came to the United States before their 16th birthdays are able to apply for “deferred action” on their case for a period of two years.

For many undocumented youths, including those whose nearly lifelong fears of deportation and hopes for immigration reform have followed them to Harvard, DACA represents a major step toward security in America.

A SENSE OF SECURITY

“It means not living in fear anymore,” said Mary, an undocumented junior in Quincy House who asked that her real name not be used due to her immigration status. “I’m just happy having deportation protection.”

Under DACA, so-called “childhood arrivals” who were between 15 and 30 years old on June 15, 2012, can receive temporary work authorization, a Social Security number, and a two-year reprieve from immigration proceedings. The application asks them how they came to the United States and demands information including school transcripts.

To be eligible, applicants must also prove that they have graduated from high school, received their GED, or been honorably discharged from the Armed Forces. Criminal convictions for felonies, “significant misdemeanors,” or more than three misdemeanors can disqualify applicants.

After an applicant’s materials are partially processed, he or she receives a summons to come into an Application Support Center to have biometrics—fingerprints and I.D. photos—taken.

Fernando Espino ’15, an undocumented student born in Mexico, echoed Mary’s feeling of relief that the program may offer him a respite from his fear of running into legal trouble due to his immigration status.

“It’s that nagging feeling in the back of your mind that...at any point, if it’s not me, it’s my parents,” he said. “It provides me with a sense of calm and security, knowing that I can go about my normal life here without worrying about that.”

Before DACA, undocumented persons could not get a Social Security number or the ability to work legally. As a result, even those with college degrees were often relegated to jobs that paid under the table.

“In two years, I know I have two summers and advantages to take the opportunity of an internship, or a job somewhere that will hopefully lead to better things,” Espino said.

Eve, an undocumented sophomore in Winthrop House whose name was changed due to her immigration status, didn’t learn she was undocumented until she started applying for jobs in high school.

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