The hostility of the current presidential administration has created a continual assault on the communities that LAYC serves, particularly immigrant populations.
We discussed the new environment surrounding immigration issues with LAYC’s Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers’ Community Schools coordinator, Tatiana Sandoval, herself a Dreamer facing the uncertain future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA:
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell me a little bit about your work at LAYC? What drew you to this work?
I came to the U.S. from El Salvador in 2003, when I was 11. I grew up in Hyattsville, MD, and came to LAYC through college. I started out as an intern and then became a case manager for a program called Adelante and now I’m the Community Schools coordinator, helping low-income student find medical, dental, and mental health services, clothing, food, anything they need. I was attracted to LAYC’s work because I grew up in the community; I saw the challenges my friends and local families faced, and this organization attacks those issues.
What is your immigration status?
This is my DACA story: I came to the U.S. with the majority of my family: my mom and two out of three siblings. My youngest sibling was only 10 months old at the time and stayed behind with my dad’s family; my father had been in the U.S. for a month already, so we were reuniting with him. We had to leave because the company my dad worked for offered him and a group of coworkers the opportunity to go work for them in the U.S. My father was able to foresee the disadvantages we would have in El Salvador—especially regarding our finances and safety—so he and my mother made the difficult decision to leave our home and family. Everyone in my family eventually got visas, except my youngest sibling, which is why we left her behind. She reunified with the family five years later. Once he and his coworkers arrived in the U.S., however, the company notified them that they were fired. A group of about 20 employees.
When I was in high school, the Dream Act conversation started. By this time, I had overstayed my original visa and was undocumented. I applied for DACA at age 21. Everyone was hesitant because you didn’t know what DACA was, and it was only an executive order—what would happen after Obama? Plus you were giving the government all your information, and were the benefits worth the risk? I was convinced by my mom and went on the first day you could apply, in August 2012. There was such a huge line I had to come back the next day. Because of DACA I have been able to get my driver’s license. I could now drive and feel safe. I was already in college, paying out of state tuition at $1,300 per three-credit course. I was working 50 hours/week under the table, for about $700 every two weeks. DACA means I have a better paying, stable job. It also helped with school; I could prove residency and qualify for in-state tuition.
How would you describe the general climate in the area today regarding immigration?
From talking to youth, I see a lot of fear, anxiety. I have middle schoolers who fear going to school and coming home and their parents are gone. In my case: I’m still in college. Do I sacrifice school to work and save money because I might have to go? Many of the students and families we work with echo these thoughts. There is a lot of priority thinking: What is the back-up plan? Parents question who will have custody of or act as guardians for their children if they’re deported? I was in a panel discussion the other day and someone asked us how we are preparing. All the panelists agreed there is no way to prepare. We are biding time. How can we buy more time? More time to spend with our families, more time to continue to live our normal lives, more time to be in our home.
There has definitely been a change. With the Obama administration, you could plan for the future, have maybe a five-year plan. Now it’s maybe a year or until your DACA permit expires. You hear about all the raids. Personally, I sought mental health treatment because of my anxiety, and I see that anxiety in the community too. Doing simple tasks—going to the grocery store, to get gas—might be risky. Everyday things become a hardship. The change in our sense of security is the most drastic thing.
How can LAYC help these youth and families? What can our supporters do?
LAYC is doing really well distributing information, making sure staff have information to give to clients. The Dreamer committee’s scholarship is so helpful, as it covers other immigration fees. Members of the committee have volunteered and partnered with other organizations for information clinics. Most of all LAYC provides a safe space for conversations and distraction for the community. Youth know they won’t be judged; they can gain network support. We must continue the clinics—not just legal information, but how to access support for other needs, like housing, clothing, food. These things are often sacrificed to legal expenses. Things are changing so quickly; it’s hard to think of moving forward. People need forums where people can meet other people in their situation. Like a community event so they know they are welcome, accepted. Or signs in laws promoting an environment of safety. I love our t-shirts, which say “LAYC has got your back.” We should continue to provide safe spaces.
DACA update: Due to a recent January 2018 court decision, USCIS will accept renewal applications from certain DACA youth. Read more here: https://www.nilc.org/issues/daca/faq-uscis-accepting-daca-renewal-applications/. Ayuda and other providers are available to help, but they are prioritizing those with expired or soon-to-expire DACA work authorization cards. LAYC Dreamer committee members can help connect youth to providers. The LAYC Dreamer scholarship is available to LAYC youth to help cover the $495 cost for this renewal.
Please, stand with LAYC and support us in our efforts to advocate on behalf of immigrant youth. Use your voice and take action by contacting your representatives in Congress to demand a clean Dream Act and/or oppose the end of TPS. #heretostay #DreamActNow #SaveTPS