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ICYMI: On Anniversary of DACA, Juan Escalante Reflects On Life-Changing Effects of Program, What More Can Be Done

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“As I heard President Obama speak in the Rose Garden, I knew that I could still fight, that my voice still mattered, that immigration reform was still possible.”

Today marks the four year anniversary of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). As similar programs—expanded DACA and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA)—face partisan challenges in the Supreme Court, America’s Voice’s Juan Escalante reflects on how DACA changed his life and what more can and should be done to protect and expand these types of programs. The full piece, “Four Years Later, The Fight For Deferred Action Remains As important As Ever” is available on Medium and follows below.

My life changed four years ago today.

That morning, a White House staffer called to tell me that President Obama would make an important announcement that might be of interest to me. I immediately rose from my desk at my unpaid internship, tuned into CNN on the office TV, and cried.

The President was announcing the creation of a new initiative known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a program that would provide young undocumented immigrants with the opportunity to apply for a work permit, a driver’s license, and receive temporary relief from deportation.

I ran out the office, I called my mother, and proceeded to break down in sheer emotion. “This changes everything,” I told my mother, “I don’t think that you or dad qualify for this program, but now I can continue to go to school — I can help more. I can get a job and help you out. We need to apply immediately, tell my brothers to get their documents in order.”

This is the story of how I regained confidence in myself and broke out of an impending depression.

Having recently graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor’s in Political Science, I found myself unable to apply to any type of job due to my immigration status. By then, my family and I had been undocumented for almost five years — after our immigration attorney mishandled our case and left us with no way to adjust our status.

I was upset, and in many ways I was frustrated. It seemed that all of the legislative avenues I had advocated for, comprehensive immigration reform and the federal DREAM Act, were long gone — and that my degree, just like my immigration advocacy efforts, had been in vain.

DACA took this pain and frustration away, beginning on this day in 2012. As I heard President Obama speak in the Rose Garden, I knew that I could still fight, that my voice still mattered, that immigration reform was still possible.

Four years later, now in 2016, I am reminded of the benefits and opportunities DACA has provided me, my family, and hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants like myself.

Thanks to DACA I was able to return to Florida State University and pursue my masters degree, land my dream job at America’s Voice, lease a new car, and help provide for my family.

These personal victories serve as a reminder of everything the immigrant community has been able to achieve — how our “Undocumented and Unafraid” mantra allowed us to obtain this small and fragile relief program that we call DACA.

But, DACA is now under siege by Republicans across the country.

Right now, Donald Trump and the Republican party are threatening the livelihood of immigrants like me. The new Republican principles on immigration include mass deportation, bans of immigrants based on their religion, and the launch of a “deportation force.” Of course, Republicans are also intending to get rid of DACA should they be given the opportunity to do so. Earlier this year, Republicans in the House of Representatives already took a vote to do just that.

As if that wasn’t enough, a federal judge in Texas is also fighting DACA recipients over access to their personal and private information. Judge Andrew Hanen is presiding over the partisan lawsuit that is currently delaying the implementation of DAPA and DACA+, two additional programs that could provide immigration relief for millions of undocumented parents.

Hanen has ordered the release of sensitive information like my social security, school transcripts, and copies of my birth certificate because he believes Department of Justice attorneys mislead him about the issuance of three year DACA extensions — which President Obama announced in 2014.

These are the battles undocumented immigrants are currently fighting four years laterafter the implementation of DACA. There is so much at risk, and we simply cannot let Republicans undo all of our progress on immigration.

My ability to remain in the United States hinges on the 2016 general election. I should not have to plan my life in two or three year increments, fear that my DACA could be taken away, or that my personal information is released without my explicit consent.

DACA turns four years old today, and I am once again reminded of how much work there is left to do on behalf of immigrants across the country.