‘The uncertainty is killing us,’ says a trailblazing Dreamer interviewed by The Americano. Her entire life depends on a Supreme Court decision.
Arizona — Eight years ago, Reyna Montoya could not sleep from the excitement. She felt like she had won the lottery. She felt she was almost legal in the U.S. She felt life was finally proving she was on the right side of the border. She felt safe for the first time in a long time. Thanks to President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), she felt she belonged to this country and that the U.S. was finally welcoming her.
But today she can barely sleep. Sometimes she has nightmares and wakes up sweating. The anguish scares her dreams away. She is anxious. She breathes and tries to control the demons of her fears. But the possibility of losing DACA has a huge impact on her emotions and her mental health. Waiting for the Supreme Court decision is taking a toll on her, she says.
“What is going to happen?” she asks herself all the time. “When?” That is the last question on her mind before going to bed. The uncertainty is on her nerves.
“I wake up every morning at 6:00 am waiting to hear what will happen in the Supreme Court,” says Montoya. “When I see that DACA it’s not on the agenda, I sigh, but then I worry again because I know that DACA’s decision has to be made in June and this is like a painful agony.”
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Montoya was born in Tijuana, Mexico and migrated to Arizona in 2003. Her family fled the violence. Being on the north side of the border as an undocumented immigrant means, she says, that she had to fight twice as hard to aspire to the same opportunities as others who did have papers.
“Unfortunately, we have seen how politicians continue to play with our lives, both democrats and republicans,” Montoya said. “DACA is now in the Supreme Court because of their political fights and, in the worst-case scenario, they can ruin this program forever,” she added.
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The 29-year-old became a youth activist and later founded Aliento, a non-profit organization that helps undocumented children and youth through art, community inclusion, education, and social justice in Arizona. Aliento soon became the organization for other Dreamers who needed help with their renewal paperwork, legal advice, scholarships, and resources that have become crucial during the pandemic.
“Living like these is very hard, there are days when we ask ourselves what is going to happen to Aliento if we lose…” Montoya says. “We are trying to survive politics, the pandemic, and the Supreme Court decision and we don’t have one yet.”
Montoya knows that her life can change in one minute. If the Supreme Court declares that DACA is unconstitutional, she could be at risk of deportation. It wouldn’t matter that in 2018 Forbes magazine chose her as one of the 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs, or the multiple fellowships and awards she has earned. In a moment, she could be undocumented again. Her and more than 650,000 Dreamers living in the U.S.
“It is not just a global health pandemic, but an emotional and physical war of constantly thinking about what is going to happen,” she says. “And this wait is killing me.”
According to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS), as of April 2020, there are 649,070 DACA recipients in the country. They still have more than 25,000 renewal applications pending.
DACA is a federal program that grants temporary relief by giving young immigrants that came to the country at a young age permission to live and work in the United States. But Dreamers cannot leave the country, and their benefits expire every two years. When it is time to renew, they must prove that they have not violated the law and that they have complied with the government’s stipulations. The program does not offer a path to permanent legalization.
With the attempted rescission of DACA in September 2017, Dreamers have been pushing the Congress to revive and pass a federal legislation to protect them from deportation by giving them a path to citizenship: The DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act. The original version of the act had been introduced in 2001, but that and several iterations of it have failed to obtain approval in both houses of Congress.
“Trump, as president, said that he wants to negotiate with Dreamers, but he wants to remove many legal immigration things in order for us to get a real DREAM Act,” Montoya says. “It comes at an expensive price.”
“DACA is the best we have now…and they want to take it away from us,” she adds.
Montoya says that she can feel the frustration in her tummy, but there is nothing else she can do — just wait. That’s why eight years later she wakes up every morning to check the status of DACA on the Supreme Court. As soon as the alarm clock goes off, she starts checking the official webpage and hits the refresh button every five minutes. When she doesn’t see DACA on the agenda, she feels relief. Another day that she is still safe in the US… but, until when?