ATLANTA – As the marked police cruiser slows and then passes, the young man glances up nervously from his coffee, his body tensing in a reflexive way, as if getting ready to bolt if necessary.
His concern? His greatest fear is being asked to provide identification. A government issued I.D. is something he simply cannot obtain because he was brought to the United States as a child from Guatemala, and his family crossed the Mexican-U. S. border undocumented.
The slightly built 18-year-old has an easy smile, speaks perfect English with just a trace of an accent and a tiny bit of adolescent slang. Because he is Latino, he knows from bitter personal experience, that here in these suburban outskirts of the Georgia capital city’s metropolitan area, he has an increased risk of being racially profiled by law enforcement since the Trump administration took office last year.
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“Alejandro,” a pseudonym mutually agreed upon to protect him and his family during this interview, says he is scared for his future and for his family.
Like most “Dreamers,” Alejandro came to the United States in 2009 when he was only 9-years-old. His parents had fled their home along the Guatemalan-Mexican border as the narco-drug cartels and their accompanying violence escalated.
Guatemala also has high rates of violence and murder against LGBTQ people, according to Amnesty International.
The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), first introduced in Congress in 2001, was designed as a pathway to citizenship for young people who were brought to the United States as children, like Alejandro, without proper documentation.
Alejandro and his fellow ‘Dreamers’ have grown up in the United States and consider themselves to be American, but lack the documents to fully participate in society, which in some cases means that they are unable to pursue college or university.
In other cases, it means that they labour at jobs under the table or on a daily cash basis.
After numerous attempts to pass the legislation even with nearly 70 percent of Americans in support, in 2012, then President Barack Obama announced a temporary program that allowed Dreamers to come forward, pass a criminal background check, and apply for work permits. The program is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA.
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Alejandro was approved for DACA in 2016, not long after he turned 17, in the hopes of possibly attending university, but in September 2017, President Donald Trump effectually squashed those hopes by officially rescinded the program.
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WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Proponents of the legislation and immigrant advocacy groups warn that for the Dreamers, Congressional failure to pass alternative legislation, since the policy will expire March 5, 2018, could mean that they would be deported to countries they don’t know or remember, or, like Alejandro, do not consider their home.
Their lives also hang in the balance, filled with fear and uncertainty.
This week, the Trump Administration announced an immigration plan that would give 1.8 young immigrants a path to citizenship in exchange for $25 billion to build the wall, and huge cuts to the legal immigration system.
At the same time, Dreamers and civil rights advocates are furious at the rampant and increased detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants by the Trump Administration.
“We call each other before we knock on our friend’s doors,” Alejandro says. “ICE comes all the time now. They knock loud or sometimes they don’t. They just break doors down.”
Alejandro looks down at the table for a moment.
“Mi Papi, Mama, yeah, they both go to work, but I worry that I’ll come home from school, and they’ll be arrested,” Alejandro says. “I’ll have to take care of my little brother and sister, but if they take me — if I have to be deported?”
‘WHY DO THEY HATE US’
Alejandro looks at his parents, who have accompanied him to the interview. His mother, sensing his distress, gently reaches over and takes his hand, telling him softly in Spanish, “Está bien mi hijo” (It’s OK, my son.).
“I did the right thing. I registered,” Alejandro says. “Why do they hate us?”
But the real problem Alejandro says is that every encounter with any member of a law enforcement agency is fraught with the fear and danger of being arrested simply because he or his peers don’t have proper ID’s.
‘WE’RE GOOD PEOPLE’
“Mi familia, we’re good people. We’re hard workers. We contribute. We don’t take, but they don’t care.” Alejandro says, looking defeated.
“I want to be an engineer — You know, build things that help people. I want to be a part of this country and be a citizen to help out,” Alejandro says.
THE SIMPLE THINGS
Alejandro’s parents say that all they really want is a secure future for their children and a place of safety away from the bloodshed and violence in Guatemala that they fear may never end.
Alejandro says that all he wants is a chance to make a difference. He is more than willing to serve in the U. S. military to honour his adopted home and to say, Thank you.
DOESN’T WANT TO DIE
But there’s a larger reason, too, he says, looking over at his parents, then asks me to not react as they don’t know what he’s about to tell me.
“I’d die in Guatemala,” Alejandro says. “I’m gay.”
Editor’s note: Before publishing this story, Q Voice News learned that Alejandro was arrested and deported in December to Guatemala. Alejandro had attended a DACA protest in Georgia, and immigration officials, unbeknownst to Alejandro, took his photo, according to sources. They used facial recognition to identify him and compared that image to his DACA photo on file, which indicated his DACA status had expired. Immigration officials went to Alejandro’s home, detained and deported him.
Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that safeguards against deportation must in remain in place and that Dreamers can renew their status while the Trump Administration’s legal challenge to terminate the program proceeds.