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Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival Research
by Andrea, Nelly, Sofia, Zully, Zaira, Raquel, Gaby
Thursday Dec 21st, 2017 8:18 PM
Current laws and stipulations are threatening the legal status of immigrants in the United States. The president’s decision to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and call congress to act has left the “Dreamers” of the country in uncertainty. A set of interviews were held with DACA recipients of Sonoma County to understand the demographic of the recipients and the effects recent laws have had on them and their families. The interviews will help understand who the DACA population is and how greatly they have been impacted socially and psychologically by recent decisions.
Abstract/Research Question:

What are the effects of recent laws and current stipulations on DACA recipients in Sonoma County? Who are the DACA demographic? How are DACA recipients impacted along with their communities/families?
Current laws and stipulations are threatening the legal status of immigrants in the United States. The president’s decision to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and call congress to act has left the “Dreamers” of the country in uncertainty. A set of interviews were held with DACA recipients of Sonoma County to understand the demographic of the recipients and the effects recent laws have had on them and their families. The interviews will help understand who the DACA population is and how greatly they have been impacted socially and psychologically by recent decisions.
Keywords: DACA, immigration, undocumented, Dreamers, immigration law, citizenship

Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals is a program that protects eligible immigrant youth who came to the United States when they were children from deportation. This policy was established by President Barack Obama in 2012 and has given 800,000 young undocumented immigrants protection from deportation. The requirements to obtain DACA include having a clean criminal record, arriving before your 16th birthday, prove you have resided in the US since 2007, and to be completing/have a highschool diploma or GED equivalent. DACA will then allow the recipient to have a driver's license, a work permit, and a Social Security number. DACA has positively impacted young undocumented immigrants, opening up new opportunities for them. It has given them hope and the possibility for a better future as many pursue their education and go into a certain field of work. In 2017, President Donald Trump decided to end DACA, giving Congress a short window to find a solution for the ‘dreamers.’ Ending DACA will close any possibilities for recipients to continue their education or continue working. By doing so not only are the students impacted socially and emotionally but their families as well as their daily lives will change drastically.

Literature Review

DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was an American immigration policy that allowed individuals who were brought to the United States at a young age. This policy was established by the Obama administration in June 2012 and rescinded by the Trump administration in September 2017. This decision has 80,000 DACA recipients worried on what will their future will hold, living day by day because their future in this country in uncertain. In the news article by Pablo Ximenez de Sandoval, La pesadilla de los ‘soñadores’ americanos, describes the fear and the story of four individuals who are under DACA. A majority of DACA members have been raised in the United States, many don't know the country they came from and don’t want to return. A majority of these ‘dreamers’ are from California and Texas and 79% of them come from Mexico. Not all the individuals are Mexican; many are Pacific Islander, Asian, and Latin America. Sandoval interviewed four different individuals from different backgrounds and ethnicity telling him their stories and struggles.

First to tell his story is Jose Lopez of 27 years, who was brought to the U.S from the City of Mexico on a tourist visa for four years. He had hopes and dreams in becoming a doctor, until he discovered he was undocumented. Today he’s involved in a social group called dreamers Dream Team LA and works with Food Chain Worker Alliance. He was planning to buy a house, but with Trump’s decision in canceling DACA, he can no longer look into that. He is does not care for what will happen to him, he's lived a life without proper documentation, but he fears for the younger adults who only know how to really on DACA.
The second interviewee was Maribel Serrano, an administrator of 30 years old. When she was four she crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S, although she's never asked her mother for details. Her parents never told her she was undocumented until she wanted to get her driver’s license and her mother gave her fake documents, she declined her offer. “When I found out, my entire world came down”. She worked in restaurants and hotels, until 2013 she was given DACA and was able to have a social security and a driver’s license. When Trump was elected president in November of last year, she was so anxious, “I couldn’t stop crying for months”, now she is motivated to tell her story. “Fears mixes with a slight of disobedience with the DACA individuals. I’ve gotten until here now it's time for this country to prove to me what country it is. I’m prepared for whatever happens”.

Jeong Park, reporter of 23 year old was sent by his parent from Korea when he was 11 years old with a tourist visa, I had no plan. There are around 7,250 Koreans, 4,600 Filipinos, 3,400 Jamaicans and almost 3,200 Indians, not only Mexicans or Latinos. His life as undocumented is not the same as a Latino, “I have less possibility to be stopped out on the street”. Jeong just received his license in politics from UCLA and this past summer was a reporter for the Orange County Register. Although with the decision about DACA changed everything for him, he will soon look for a new job that will allow him to survive. “Returning to Korea is not an option”.

Lastly, the last interview is Mario Perez, who was born in Iztapalapa, Mexico and was brought to the U.S when he was one year old by his mother. He is the eldest of his siblings and the only one without papers. Mario has struggled with deportation before, his father was deported when he was 12 years old. Mario has been able to study Politics in a public university and has been able to live a regular life under DACA. “As of Tuesday I don't have any long term plans, only short term”. He hopes congress will not pass the law that will not only deport him and his mother but 80,000 people under DACA.

After Trump’s decision to take back protection for undocumented students that were brought here by their parents, many states filed a suit to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Amongst those states was California, which would be severely impacted by deportation of these immigrants. California holds one in four of the DACA recipients. These recipients have been a part of the state's ongoing success as a growing economy. This growing economy has come to be one of the largest in the world. California recognizes that its success can be contributed to its citizens, which include undocumented students.
President Donald Trump’s decision, on August 29, to discontinue the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is predicted to affect many young people. DACA shields young people brought to the United States illegally from deportation. Additionally, it granted work permits and Social Security numbers to those who qualified but did not give them lawful status. This protection is temporary as it is required to renew every two years. As of August 29, 2017 the federal government will not be accepting new applications and will only be renewing those that are set to expire by March 5, 2018. Dreamers who have an application set to expire on this date have until October 5, 2017 to renew it one last time for the final two-year renewal. Amalia Montes, a 26 year -old resident of Santa Rosa, California, is a local Dreamer and says that people who were brought here illegally by their parents are not to blame and are not understood by President Trump or supporters of this DACA termination. Although this process is still to be determined there are major companies that are standing with their employee Dreamers. This does not only affect those currently enrolled in DACA, but also students who sought to apply for it in the future. Steve Herrington, the superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education, says there are an estimated 2,500 undocumented K-12 students currently enrolled in Sonoma County. On the Sonoma State University campus, there are 180 students who are DACA recipients and employs some as well. Because the DACA applicants gave their personal information, many fear that federal agents will come looking for them. For now, there is an agreement between USCIS and DHS that protects DACA recipients’ information and will not be shared with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless the immigrant has been convicted for a crime.

Kashika Mohan Sahay, Kari Thatcher, Cruz Nunez, and Alexandra Lightfoot examined the struggles “DACAmented youth face because of their status. Using a community based participatory research approach they explored their question, “How does being an undocumented Latino/a affect aspirations for higher education?”. Their method was a qualitative method of photovoice. After photovoice was completed a participant and two graduates continued and conducted a second analysis. Their research findings emphasized the challenges DACA youth face day-to-day and the privileges they are given because of DACA. They come to find out that the “DACAmented youth do not feel that DACA is going to help them out all the way and is in fact complicating their educational motivations.
In 2012, Obama passed a new policy called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) these programs allows students to be eligible to work and are protected from deportation. According to Kashika Mohan Sahay, Kari Thatcher, Cruz Nunez, and Alexandra Lightfoot the youth under DACA are more worried now being under DACA than they were before. According to immigration reform activists in the book The right to Dream, DACA complicates life for youth in at least four fundamental ways (schwab, 2013). First, the law is a presidential executive action, second the action is temporary, third there is no path to citizenship or residency, and fourthly the status carries distrust among the youth that their families could be deported because of them.

To find out “How does being an undocumented Latino/a affect aspirations for higher education?” they used photovoice. A group of students went around their community and took different pictures that related to their topic. The pictures were later passed on to two researcher graduates and they conducted a transcript. The most significant finding was that most DACA youths were still having complications and worries even after having the program. For example, one of the pictures that was taken was a girl with her arm on the steering wheel and a dream catcher hung on the rear mirror. This image of a youth sitting in the driver seat, with a dream catcher over the rear mirror represents the benefits and limitations of DACA. On one hand, youth have a driver’s license and work permit, but higher education is a distant dream.

In the month of September of 2017, ICE conducted a crackdown on the relatives of undocumented children who entered the United States. In the summer of 2017, a Kansas City man named Edwin received a call from the immigration officials because his nephew was picked up at the border and needed to be taken in by him. A few months after he took his nephew in, he received another call but this time from the ICE enforcement detectives. Due to their new approach, they questioned him about sponsoring his nephew meanwhile also being here illegally. Edwin shares that he has never paid anyone to help bring his nephew to the states. In fact, he emigrated from El Salvador in 2001 and followed all of the rules since coming here: obtaining temporary protected status and keeping a clean criminal record. He states that no matter what, he feels that it is his job to take his nephew in because he is family. During the time that Obama was the president, ICE was instructed not to go after people who were taking care of people without paperwork. Since Trump became the president, that policy has been reversed. In another similar case, a couple who lived in New Mexico fled after ICE agents showed up and questioned them about a nephew that they also recently took in. The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service are a group who helps place undocumented minors with relatives. They have also seen a rise in cases where families have gotten in trouble for doing so.

Coming of age on the Margins: Mental Health and Well Being among Latino Immigrant Young Adults Eligible for Deferred Action for childhood Arrivals (DACA):
A study was conducted to find out the mental and emotional impacts growing up as undocumented had on Latinos before/after DACA was put into action in 2012. The study interviewed 61 eligible DACA recipients and found out the emotional and mental impacts were much bigger than expected. It showed growing up as undocumented had an impact on their identity and health. Due to fear of deportation many did not discuss their legal status and lived with fear and paranoia, isolating themselves from their communities. They were excluded from many things before DACA such as applying to college, obtaining a license, or having stable employment. As they missed out on activities and part of everyday life people in their lives participated in it really affected their self-esteem, making some even suicidal.
The positive changes DACA had in their lives was being able to publicly embrace who they were and belonging to a supportive community with many others like themselves. DACA also opened up many opportunities for them to travel and further pursue their education. However, it also created more pressure on them as now they are able to obtain more opportunities. The question of the safety and legal status of their parents also became a concern. And of course since DACA is only valid for two years, what would happen after? The study overall highlighted the positive and negative effects of DACA and growing up undocumented but was limited. The study was conducted in accepting communities of DACA recipients, so their experience might be different from someone who lives in a more conservative town. It was also conducted in English excluding Spanish speakers and not allowing them to share their inputs. And the population they interviewed were college-educated students and not those DACA recipients that are out in the working world. This study overall is a great source to our research question since it approaches the impacts growing up undocumented has had on young adults.


Our data collection research respondents were DACA recipients in Sonoma County. We started our interview guide on September 27, 2017 and after working together to come up with questions that would cover our areas of interest, we finalized it after our first interview on October 3, 2017. The interview guide consists of seven categories such as: background life, family, occupation, laws, psychological state, sociological aspects, and finances. Our interview was tested as one of our group members interviewed the first DACA recipient to participate in our research. The way it was tested in this interview was by following the original interview guide and adding and or crossing things out as the interview proceeded, as well as asking the interviewee for his/her input on the interview questions. After that first interview, as a group we concluded that the interview guide was thorough enough and open for interpretation to get answers from interviewees that would cover our topics of interest surrounding DACA.

We used our interview guide to help conduct qualitative interviews and secured respondents by informing them about our study as well as giving them a waiver with professional contact information. We each took responsibility for finding DACA recipients to participate in our research and scheduled interviews starting on October 3rd, 2017 and conducting our last interview on November 7, 2017. Interviewees were found with the help of the Sonoma State University Undoc Center giving us references to possible candidates. We also did research on local residents who were previously open about their DACA status and contacted them. Each interview was conducted by two group members. One following the interview guide and asking the questions, meanwhile the other wrote down the answers of the interviewee. We did this mainly so the interviewer could give the interviewee their undivided attention and make the interview flow better in attempt to make the interviewee feel a lot more comfortable on such a delicate subject. Most of the interviews were conducted on campus in a public setting but in an area where the conversation could not be heard, such as in study rooms in the library and on a quiet outdoor table around Toast Cafe. The interview settings were chosen by the interviewer and approved by the interviewee, the decision was also based on availability.

Our goal was to have a better understanding of DACA recipients and to collect information in order to share with the recipient's own community. To do so, after we conducted our last interview we came together as a group and shared our findings while highlighting things we found most interesting and similar about the interviewees. In order to facilitate the data collection we each wrote out our interviewees’ answers on a shared document and analyzed the overall data together.


Our group was able to interview 15 DACA recipients within Sonoma County. Among those 15 participants, 7 identified as female, 6 as male, and 2 were not available. The ages of our participants ranged from 20-28. Our demographic concluded of all Mexican immigrants, most likely due to our location and how close we are to Mexico. Through our interviews we obtained very useful information that not only gave us a background on the interviewee but also answered our research question(s).


From the 15 participants, most migrated to the United States at a very young age, ranging from 9 months old to 9 years old. We asked the participants why their families decided to migrate to the United States and they all explained their families were looking for better opportunities. With Mexico’s social and economic crisis, their families could not succeed or have financial stability in their country of origin. One of the participants talked about the education system in Mexico and how hard it would have been for them to further their education. In Mexico the wealthy are the ones who have access to a better quality education, while those who live in more rural areas are forced to travel 1-2 hours to their schools. As to why the interviewees chose the location they settled in was because they had a family member/friend who had already settled in the area. This allowed for them to have some support as they settled into their new environment and tried to assimilate.

Growing up Undocumented:

We asked the participants how growing up undocumented had affected them and depending on their age they responded differently. For example, older participants stated growing up undocumented impacted them negatively as DACA was put into order later on. They explained that the application process for applying to college was difficult and this often discouraged them because there weren’t a lot of resources to help them. However, younger applicants stated growing up undocumented did not influence how they grew up because DACA had been in place for a couple of years and those early applicants had already paved the way for them. Undocumented workers often have to work under the table and do not have all the benefits a person with documents has. Fortunately, DACA provided them with work permits which allowed recipients to apply for better jobs and receive better wages. Which helped them provide more for their families and have financial stability. We also asked if the participants ever felt discriminated against due to their immigration status. Most stated they did not face discrimination as it was not a topic that was often discussed. However, two participants stated that while they were submitting paperwork and providing proof they had authorization to work, it became a little awkward as their employers tried to verify their documents. Many of of participants states growing up undocumented didn’t shape who they were as people but determined what their futures entailed.

Ending DACA:
Trump has announced the recent end to DACA, gambling away the future of 800,000 undocumented immigrants. We asked our participants how this would affect their current education/job security. An interviewee stated the disappointment with the ending of DACA for he felt his bachelor degree now had no value since he would not be able to obtain work and would have to go back to construction. Another participant who is a teacher, expressed her concern for her job. We asked the participants on what their families and themselves would do if they were to get deported. A couple of our interviewees stated the idea of deportation had not crossed their minds as being deported was not an option. Many hope that DACA will be reinstated or a better solution will take its place. One participant stated she believes she will not be a part of those who are deported for she is a good civilian and believes only those who pose a threat to society will be targeted. One specific participant said that being deported is a constant fear for they have a younger sibling who is a United States citizen who would be left to fend for themselves. As precaution they’re gone over the necessary precautions, if anything were to happen to him. A common feeling of DACA recipients is anxiety as they will no longer have protection from our government. They fear being deported back to a country in which they do not remember, relate to, or some don’t even speak the language. Many of our participants stated their fear of leaving behind their home and going to a country in which they might not be able to adapt to as it’s foreign to them. Since the end of DACA, we wanted to know how the participants felt towards our government. We expected many to say they felt betrayed by our country as we encouraged those to speak out about being Dreamers yet have left them vulnerable now. However, many stated they weren’t mad with our country but felt upset towards our new President Donald Trump. They said they felt targeted as a minority group and left without protection.


The group was able conduct 15 interviews, some ideas and problems connected but others varied from one another. The results showed the older recipients of DACA recipient was the more struggles and adversity they had to face because DACA was put into place later into their adulthood. But younger recipients struggled less as DACA was put into place when they were in high school. This had to do with the ability to obtain a driver’s license and a work permit at a younger age. Because DACA was put into action in 2012, the early applicants paved the way for the future DACA recipients. As DACA was new not many institutions offered resources to help undocumented immigrants with the application process, until later on when there was more knowledge and help for those potential candidates. Sonoma State University has recently established an UndocResource Center, which helps provide counseling for DACA students. The Santa Rosa Junior College has established a Dream Center on their campus which helps facilitate the application process and provide resources. For those older DACA recipients, who did not have any form of protection, being undocumented shaped their behavior and actions as they had to prove they were ideal citizens. They knew they could not get into any legal trouble because a small thing such as a traffic violation could lead to their deportation. For the younger DACA recipients, they’ve known they were undocumented from a very young age but DACA allowed to participate in the activities their documented peers could do. Participants who applied for DACA in high school stated they did not struggle much as they were legally able to drive and get part-time jobs.

Most of the interviewees were college students, who have been able to pursue a higher education with the help of DACA, however they will not be able to utilize their diploma since employers will not hire an undocumented person. Many will lose the ability to continue attending school and have their employment terminated once their permit expires. Forcing them to have to go work under the table, once again taking away many opportunities. In results this will affect their families because their incomes will be significant lower and they will not have the stability they had when under the protection of DACA.

Within our findings we found that the participants had mixed feelings towards the idea of deportation. A couple of our participants stated deportation was not an option and that they hoped a resolution to their problem will soon be found. Many had not even considered what would happen if they were deported. Our 15 participants, migrated to the United States from as young as 9 months to 9 years old. They don’t remember much, if anything, from their country of origin. Which leads to the anxiety most experience if they were forced to move to an estranged country. They don't know much about the culture, the social expectations, the language, or customs. They fear having to start all over again, having limited opportunities in their country of origin. They all fear not being able to adapt or blend in a country they have no knowledge of, all they know is the “American Culture”.

We were curious to find out what the undocumented community entailed of and we found out most of our recipients knew of 5-15 people who were undocumented. However, it is not something they openly discuss and avoid the subject. Most of the help DACA recipients have received are from legal counseling, who guided them through the application process. High schools and Universities have recently began to provide more resources for their students within the past couple of years. We asked our participants if they felt betrayed by our country, some said they felt betrayed by our country as they were told it was okay to come out from the shadows and identify themselves. Others said they didn’t feel betrayed by our our but our current president. They felt like they were targeted and the Trump administration was associating them to criminals and the ‘bad hombres,’ when in reality they are hardworking and ideal citizens.


After collecting data on DACA recipients within Sonoma county, we found that DACA provided these individuals with many opportunities. Whether the opportunities regarded DACA recipients getting a work permit, a driver’s license, the chance to go to college, or receive a social security card, they all were given benefits that they wouldn’t have been able to receive if they weren’t a part of the DACA program. And while thoughts, feelings, experiences, and opinions differed among the DACA recipients we interviewed, they all spoke on how DACA helped change their lives in a positive way. With the removal of DACA, it will impact not only DACA recipients, but their families as well with a higher chance of deportation. The removal of DACA will affect DACA recipients emotionally and financially; they will also have all of their benefits removed, as well as all the money and hard work they put in since they became a part of DACA.

Research Limitations:

On October 8th, 2017 the Sonoma fires began and continued to affect the Sonoma County residents for weeks after. It then became harder to reschedule with some of our potential interviewees, understandable due to the circumstances. This affected our study as we were not able to interview 20 participants like we had hoped. We noticed that all our participants were of Mexican origin, which is most likely due to our location. Ideally we would’ve liked to interview participants from different countries as their immigration experience might have differed from those who migrated from Mexico. With our interview we decided to created open ended questions and leave it up to the participant to share as much information as they wished. This might have limited our information as some participants did not go into complete depth of some issues, such as touching on the status of their family members. Over all, the research we conducted was successful as we found more out about the DACA recipients background and the effects DACA had while it was available and the possible effects once their permits expire.

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