DACA decade: ‘It’s not convenient to be living this way all the time’
Three Summit County DACA recipients share what their lives are like in honor of program’s 10th anniversary
Isidra Luna was 2 years old when her family moved from their ranch in Zacatecas, Mexico to Summit County. It was 1997, and her father had already been living in California for two years before he sent for his wife and his two daughters. The family had an uncle in Summit County, so the four decided to move to Colorado where they planted roots in Silverthorne.
Now 25 years later, Luna said home is less of a physical place and more so where her family is, all of whom still live in the county. She hasn’t been back to Mexico since her family moved in the 1990s, but calling the U.S. home doesn’t fit either since she’s not a citizen.
“It’s hard to be on both sides,” Luna said, “not from here and not from there. Technically, I’m not a U.S. citizen, so I do identify as a Mexican. You know, people will say, ‘Well, you grew up here, so you’re basically an American.’ Anyway, it’s hard to balance being enough Mexican for the Mexicans and being enough American for the Americans.”
Luna is one of 14,000 people living in Colorado who are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The program was introduced by then-President Barack Obama in 2012, and it has allowed thousands of people who were brought to the U.S. as children to temporarily remain in the country and obtain work permits.
According to a recent report from FWD.com, an immigration rights advocacy organization, 92% of Colorado’s DACA recipients have a high school diploma, 61% are in the labor force and 26% have children.
June 15 marks the program’s 10th anniversary, but for some, the milestone doesn’t provide much comfort. In recent years, the program has been put in jeopardy, worrying individuals like Luna about what would happen if they were suddenly sent back to unfamiliar countries.
“I think I felt at risk because I knew we weren’t doing things textbook, you could say,” Luna said about growing up. “I knew that my parents were trying their best to work, but they couldn’t work legally. I always felt that if they ever came for them, they’d be coming for me as well. But then also that fear of just having the brown skin and looking like I don’t belong. I thought people would be able to know, and I thought that when people looked at me, they knew that I was here illegally and ‘breaking the rules,’ I guess you could say.”
Luna’s sister, Elizabeth Luna Torres, has similar concerns. She was nearly 4 years old when she, Isidra and their parents moved to the U.S. As a DACA recipient herself, she said “home is not here or there” and that she considers both places her home even though she feels like she “doesn’t fit in one nor the other.”
Elizabeth Luna Torres said she has multiple plans for if she was deported back to Mexico. While federal legislation could uproot her life, it’s not her only concern.
“Here, you’re always tense. You’re always worried about what you’re doing because you have to watch yourself,” Elizabeth Luna Torres said. “If you slip up, even getting like a DUI or even a speeding ticket could get you in trouble, and it could make things worse for you. You’re always cautious, and you’re not always looked at the same.”
Marco Bazzara said the possibility of getting deported back to his hometown of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico is frightening not only due to the rise in crime there but also because his children were born in the U.S. and are thus citizens.
Bazzara’s family decided to relocate from their hometown — which is just 30 minutes from El Paso, Texas — in 1998 out of safety concerns. He said they likely could have applied for refugee status but didn’t know enough at the time before moving.
“Crime was kind of rising in my city, so things were getting very difficult, especially for teenage girls, things like that. There was a lot of murder that was rising there,” Bazzara said.
He was 11 years old when his family moved to Summit County from Mexico. A few years later, they again relocated to Texas and then in 2009, Bazzara moved back to Summit County, where he’s been ever since. In the years since his family’s move, Bazzara said his family is grateful they left their hometown when they did.
“A lot of our neighbors and relatives, unfortunately, were caught in all this crime, and they’re no longer with us,” Bazzara said. “(We) lost a lot of childhood friends because of that.”
He and his wife, Zuleyma Arias, are both DACA recipients, and they have two children. Though they want to show their children their heritage and hometowns, under their current status, it’s difficult to return to Mexico.
That point can be illustrated by a recent example. Bazzara said his mother-in-law’s health took a turn and that the two of them wanted to take their kids to see her before she died. But because of their legal status, it was too much of a risk to visit.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t do any of that,” he said. “You can always apply for advance parole, but it takes a while. You can’t get it within a week, so by the time you get it, it’s a little too late.”
Elizabeth Luna Torres, Isidra Luna and Bazzara all agreed that the program has given them and their families ample opportunities that they might not have had otherwise. All three work at the Summit Community Care Clinic and have planted roots in the community.
In light of the program’s 10th anniversary, Elizabeth Luna Torres said that she hopes positive change comes for recipients like herself.
“There’s a lot of benefits, but it’s temporary. Something needs to change because it’s not convenient to be living this way all the time.”
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