Democrats and Republicans say they want to pass immigration reform this year. Most Republicans are pushing for tighter border regulations, while some Democrats say they would like to find a way to extend work permits to “Dreamers” through the DACA program. DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It provided two-year work permits to some illegal immigrants if their parents brought them into the country as children.
In September, the Trump Administration announced the end of the Obama-era DACA program. Many Republicans, including some of West Virginia’s congressional leaders, have said the DACA program was an abuse of executive power by President Obama. But some Republicans also say they support finding a permanent solution for DACA recipients, if it can be tied in with tighter border security and immigration policy.
The West Virginia American Civil Liberties Union estimates there are between 100 and 150 DACA recipients in West Virginia.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting spoke with one of those about how the debate in Washington affects her life in Mountain State.
Jackie Lozano is 21. Her mom brought her to the United States when she was two. Lozano said her mom came here to get a job so she could pay for Jackie’s medical care.
Lozano didn’t actually know she was an illegal immigrant until she was 15 years old, when she was starting to apply for financial aid for college. A guidance counselor asked for her social security number, and when she went home to ask her mom for her social security card, her mom told her she wasn’t a U.S. citizen. A year later, when Lozano was 16, then-President Obama announced a controversial new program, called DACA. She was able to apply for a work permit through the program.
“I’m able to drive places without having to worry about getting stopped and deported for not having a state I.D. or from not being from here. And given the fact that I have family here that I need to take care of, and a son, and a child that I need to take care of, that’s very important. It’s crucial, really, not just to have a living, but to live.”
Although she hasn’t been able to afford college, she’s been able to find steady, full-time work. She grew up in North Carolina, but she said she fell in love with West Virginia. She works for a communications company, which sent her to West Virginia for a training in 2015. She requested a transfer to move here.
She also fell in love with a fellow co-worker, and she and her partner have a 1-year old baby named Carter.
Last summer, Lozano applied, and was accepted for a two-year renewal for her DACA work permit, so she has about a year and a half until her situation would change significantly. But by June 2019, if Congress doesn’t decide to renew the program, she fears deportation back to Mexico, where she was born. She remembers the day when she heard the announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the DACA program would end.
“I picked up my child and I just started crying, because I knew there is a possibility that I won’t see him for a long time. It’s as if someone grabs, you know like those little sand timers? Just flipped it over. You’re watching your time run out.”
Lozano said she does have hopes of applying for citizenship one day.
“A lot of my close friends are like, ‘Well why don’t you just get married to your to your partner? Like why don’t you just get married?’ And the way I see it is, I don’t feel like I should have to get married to get citizenship. You know, like yeah, I want to marry him one day, you know. But I don’t want the reason for the marriage to be so I can have a citizenship.”
September 2017 marked the end of the DACA program. The Department of Homeland Security says nearly 600,000 people are set to have DACA permits expire during the next two years, unless Congress passes legislation to continue the program.
We reached out to West Virginia’s five congressional lawmakers for this story.
“Dealing with undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children is a complex problem. President Obama’s answer was to make policy by executive order, which was an abuse of power, and was not a long-term solution to this problem. Previously, President Obama threatened to oppose any changes to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Now Congress has an opportunity to step in and develop a sustainable policy that does not rely on an executive order.
Congress needs to develop a solution that does not unfairly punish people who arrived in America as children years ago and are contributing to society, while making sure we don’t incentivize more illegal immigration in the future. Fixing the DACA program is just one of many steps Congress needs to take to fix our broken immigration system. Securing the border and improving enforcement throughout the country need to be part of the discussion as well.”
“President Obama overstepped his constitutional authority by creating the DACA program through an executive order. We are a nation of laws and have a responsibility to secure our borders. I remain firmly opposed to amnesty and am committed to ensuring our nation’s immigration policies are constitutional and lawful.”
Shelley Moore Capito’s Press Office:
“Senator Capito could support an immigration solution that provides for increased border security to protect Americans and provides relief for those in the DACA program. She is encouraged by ongoing negotiations between the Trump Administration and members of Congress to improve immigration policy and add resources for enforcement.”
“The West Virginians I represent want border security, including building the wall, prior to any discussion of various amnesty proposals. Procedurally, I believe separate issues deserve separate votes.”
We didn’t hear back from Sen. Joe Manchin by the time this story was filed.
This story was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.