Wednesday, August 6, 2014

“I live my life in hiding. My survival depends on it.” – Dexter

(most recent post on Balloon-Juice)
My Facebook feed tells me that the film Documented has been honored at the Cinemalaya Film Festival in Manila. I watched it on CNN the Sunday night we arrived at our Outer Banks vacation last month. I watched it alone while the rest of the family was either playing Monopoly with one dice or grocery shopping for the week. I would normally opt to go grocery shopping since I am selective about my diet but stayed in knowing the film was premiering.  It was 2 hours long and I found myself mesmerized by the images of Manila streets. It looked like a modern day Wild West with its dusty streets and a lone rickshaw pulled by a motor bike.
I identify with Mr. Vargas for many reasons. We are both Filipino, similar in age. We are both writers. He is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist that has covered Presidential elections. I am newly minted on the Balloon-Juice front page having graduated from my audience of 10 with the other other (a little bit neglected) blog. He is “out” about the most intimate details of his life and at some point I might also consider disclosing details about myself. He is friends with the likes of Mark Zuckerburg and I am a stalker of professors. All and all pretty close right? It remains to be seen if he has a luxurious, tumbleweed generator of a cat but I think not with his hectic travel schedule. This may be where I have Mr. Vargas beat.  My immigrant cat says, “eat your heart out Jose!”

So anyway, there are a couple parts of his story on my mind. On the forefront is him being a child when he made the journey here. My mom and I arrived here in April of 1987, I was 7 going on 8. With us for the trip was a girl named Joy. I did not know her to be a member of my family nor have I seen or heard from her in the 3 decades of my residence here in America. Looking back on it, although I was not an unaccompanied minor, my mother and I accompanied a minor.  I guess as a mom, I would NEVER send my child anywhere without me, unless of course I thought elsewhere without me might be better. In addition to the physical distance, I would not risk destroying the relationship with my child not being there during his most formative years. This is the reality of many of the children that come to the U.S. and many people do take that risk.  For some of us the journey was via Japan Airlines. For someone else I know, it was through the unforgiving southwest dessert via a coyote. At some point I do want to talk about the unaccompanied minors flooding our borders but I need to do some serious homework. For now, I’d like to keep the topic on the 11 million undocumented immigrants already within our borders.
On Jun 15, 2012, President Obama made an announcement that his Administration would no longer deport immigrants that were brought to the U.S. as children. This was the inception of what is known among us as “DACA” or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.  USCIS or United States Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting applicants for DACA in August and approvals were granted in September of that year. Keep in mind that within the same family, some are eligible for this while others are not. The criteria to be DACA eligible are as follows:
  • Under age 31 on June 15, 2012
  • U.S. resident since Jun 15, 2007 up until the President’s announcement
  • Physically present in the US on Jun 15, 2012 and have had no lawful status or any lawful status you had expired on June 15, 2012
  • Applicants should be in school, have graduated from school or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or the U.S. armed forces
  • No criminal record or be deemed as a threat to national security or public safety. provides explicit instructions on filling out the I-821 (Application for Temporary Protected Status) DACA form as well as the I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) form. The filing fee for I-821 is 50 dollars. The biometrics fee, where you schlep yourself to a USCIS building or non-descript processing building, after driving around it a few times because you didn’t recognize it, to get your fingerprints taken is 85 dollars. The fee for the I-765 form is 380 dollars.  Please trust me when I say that this is “cheap” compared to the other USCIS forms and having to fill out only 2 forms is not so bad.
Seems like a paradox to provide documentation to a government for a life that by its very nature isn’t recognized as ever having existed.  Yet the DREAMers march on because it is one obstacle of many. Those that have been granted DACA approvals obtained social security numbers and have gone on with their lives with their semi protected status.  DACA recipients must renew in two years. Some have been able to obtain driver’s licenses based on the state in which they live. Unfortunately other have not. For example, you can be a DACA recipient, be legally allowed to work in the state of Arizona and not eligible for a driver’s license.
Like Mr. Vargas, I would not have qualified for DACA because of my age. It was a heartbreaking point in the film when the announcement was made by the President but someone like Mr. Vargas didn’t “fit” the criteria.
This past Friday the House voted to end DACA as well as approve $694 million towards the border crisis. What the two have to do with each other, I am not sure. I know the $694 million is not what the President requested. I am also not sure what ending DACA would do since the people it has already impacted are not going to self-deport. I await the President’s next move.

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