Adeline Guerra is a 19-year old nursing student at Washington State University Tri-Cities, and is one of 1.4 million people living and working in the U.S. under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
The 2012 executive order has allowed youth who entered the U.S. without permission as children to get work permits and social security numbers and renew those every two years as long as recipients continue to meet federal criteria.
So while many of Guerra’s college peers are opting to take summer classes or unpaid internships to enhance their resumes, she’s literally out in the field.
Guerra wakes up at 5:00 a.m. to the early morning light of the Yakima Valley. She eats a light breakfast, puts on long sleeves to protect herself from the arid desert sun, and readies for a 10-hour shift harvesting blueberries that will be shipped all over the nation.
“I’ve harvested apples, cherries, pears, blueberries… that’s about it I think,” she says with a laugh.
At school she has kept her summer job and her immigration status private.
‘Am I getting deported? Is my family getting deported?’
Currently DACA is under threat as 11 states, including Idaho, push for its termination. Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, while in support, believes the program may not stand up in federal court. Meanwhile, Senators Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, have sponsored a bipartisan revival of the Dream Act. The bill would provide a path to citizenship for immigrant youth and young adults like Guerra.
The original Dream Act was first introduced in 2001 but never came to pass. Guerra says that the politics of DACA have left her feeling in limbo.
“You have that weight on your shoulders,” she said. “You were given this opportunity.”
The weight of that opportunity has her asking herself the same questions over and over. “Do I feel safe? Am I getting deported? Is my family getting deported? Do I have the chance to go to school? Do I have the chance to get a job? Do I have a chance to be better?”
Two jobs, 80 hours per week
For many DACA students, summer is the only time they have to work full time to pay for their education. And for some young adults who aren’t in school, it’s the peak season for field work.
Uriel Moreno of Selah, Washington, remembers crossing the U.S.-Mexico border with his mother at age seven. He started his first job at 13 working summers at warehouses. Now at 21, he’s a DACA recipient averaging 80 hours per week working two jobs as a landscaper.
Moreno and Guerra are among 20,000 estimated DACA recipients in Washington state. The Yakima Valley alone is home to 6,000 eligible youth.
Uriel says one of the struggles of working seasonally is the lack of stability.
“We only work March through November,” he said in Spanish. “It’s up to you to figure out what to do November, December, January, February, and sometimes March. Those five months, if you saved, great. If you didn’t, well see how you figure it out.”
‘All it takes is a signature’
Every two years, DACA status expires. Renewals cost $495 if one chooses to file independently. Hiring a lawyer to help with the paperwork can cost thousands more, especially if a case is complicated.
Júlia Mendez, a sociology Ph.D. candidate at Loyola University, researches the experience of DACA students. She said they’ve grown up under a system that isn’t a solution.
“Just because the current president says he’s not going to remove [DACA] doesn’t mean that he won’t,” she said. “All it takes is a signature.”
“It’s scary,” Guerra said with a nervous laugh. “It is really scary to think [President Trump] could take it all away because that’s deportation protection taken away, jobs taken away.”
In Spanish, Moreno said for him DACA has opened some doors while closing others.