Aug. 16, 2013 -- “When the president announced Deferred Action it was a really special moment for me and my family,” said William Palacios, who came to the U.S. from El Salvador at the age of 14.
“When we went to apply for Deferred Action, it was a really emotional experience because we knew it was going to change our lives,” William told Fusion. “We sent the application in and when I went through the fingerprinting process it was very emotional for all of us too.”
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals(DACA) program that President Obama launched on August 15, 2012 was going to help William fulfill his dreams of going to college and being able to work so he could help his mother financially. DACA applicants who came to the U.S. before reaching their 16th birthday and have continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007 may qualify for temporary work permits and protections from deportation for two years.
William’s step-father, a landscaper, worked longer hours so they could save for the $465 application fee. His mother made and sold pupusas to friends and neighbors making ends meet. William said his family paid a lawyer an additional $300 to help with the application process.
“But then I got a notification that said my application was not approved because they needed additional documents,” William explained. “I felt sad, sin animo” he said in Spanish with his Salvadoran accent, meaning he had lost courage.
(William Palacios, portrait courtesy of Palacios)
A year after Deferred Action launched, William is still waiting for an answer. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which oversees the DACA application process, has requested additional evidence that proves Williams was in the country in 2011, the year following his high school graduation.
USCIS would not comment on William’s case.
William, 22, says he's experiencing difficulty finding ways to prove he was in the U.S. in 2011. This issue is not unheard with applicants his age.
A study that analyzed 465,509 DACA applications from August 15, 2012 to March 22, 2013 found more than one-third of applicants were between 15 and 18 years old. The study was conducted by the Brookings Institute, a nonpartisan research group.
“One of the reasons why we’re finding that DACA applicants are on the young side is because it’s much easier to document your experience in the U.S. if you’re younger,” the report's co-author Audrey Singer told Fusion. “If you've had a shorter amount of time here and if you’re in high school or recently graduated it will be much easier to document that as well.”
“But for a lot of people these materials are not easy to gather, their names are not on utility bills, they have pre-paid phone contracts and it can be a real challenge for people,” Singer added.
William is currently in the process of gathering evidence that proves he was in the country in 2011.
Rejected Before You Even Apply
(Noemi Romero, Photo courtesy of Romero)
When Noemi Romero heard about the Deferred Action program she knew that we should have to come up with the $465 application fee on her own. At the age of 21, she went out looking for work and landed her first job as a cashier at Lam’s Supermarket in West Phoenix, Arizona.
“The first thing I thought when I heard about Deferred Action was that I needed to save money because I knew that I would qualify for all of the program’s requirements,” Noemi told Fusion. “But I didn't have the money, my parents weren’t working either and we barely had money for ourselves so I started looking for a job.”
Romero was happy she found a job where she didn't need any identification. She says the under-the-table job didn't pay her overtime for the extra hours she worked after her shifts or on holidays, but she was just happy she was saving up for DACA.
But on January 17, 2013, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio conducted a raid at Lam’s Supermaket and detained Noemi. Noemi claims she did not steal anyone’s identity or forge documents but those are the exact charges she faced.
In order to be able to apply, DACA applicants can not have “been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.”
Romero has a felony on her record and is not eligible to apply for DACA.
Highs and Lows
Diana E., a junior in high school in New York City, was approved for DACA but it’s a bittersweet success story.
“I received DACA but I have a brother who was deported and then I have another brother who hasn't applied because he has a family and he can’t afford it, and my father who is a widow can’t apply for anything,” Diana told Fusion.
“I know it’s great that some people benefited, part of me feels really grateful that there’s something for our community, but on the flip side I’m sad and angry to know that there’s thousands of people out there who can’t apply for anything,” Diana went on to say. She’s a core member of the New York State Youth Leadership Council, and undocumented youth led empowerment organization.
While Diana has benefitted from DACA at 16, she will continue to encounter some of the fears and hardship before receiving her current temporary legal status because her father and brother could be deported at any time.
A national survey of 1,402 young adults ages 18-31, who were approved for DACA through June 2013, found that 14 percent participants had experienced the deportation of a parent or sibling. Almost half report that they know a neighbor, coworker, friend, or other acquaintance who has been deported, according to the Immigration Policy Center survey.
Survey results indicate that 49 percent of respondents worry “all of the time” or “most of the time” that friends and family members will be deported.
“I’m happy for me but it’s sad to know that I’m the only in my family that can benefit from this,” Diana went on say.