My neighbor, Oscar Carrillo, has lived almost all of his 18 years in legal limbo. His parents brought him to the United States as a baby on their quest for a better life. But that left Oscar undocumented, unable to work legally or apply for college financial aid.
Over the last 20 years, increased attention to the plight of Dreamers like Oscar—young people brought to this country as children who lack legal status in the land where they have grown up—has created more resources and supports for them. One of the most crucial of these, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), launched in 2012 and has provided a way for about 800,000 young people to work legally without fear of deportation. Coupled with innovative financial-aid workarounds and their own determination, many DACA recipients have gone on to college.
This summer, Oscar thought he would be one of them. Sometimes, news reports would make you think every Dreamer is a valedictorian. Not so. Oscar is a hard worker, but not a top student. He took an International Baccalaureate (IB) course or two at Back of the Yards High School, but he didn’t earn an IB diploma or speak at graduation.
Oscar likes to fix things. He considered auto mechanics, but when he learned that fixing airplanes pays better than fixing cars, he was eager to shift focus. He found a program at Kennedy-King College that can lead into a bachelor’s program for aviation maintenance. He pushed hard to get a course in suspension systems—part of his major—on his schedule right away so he would stay motivated.
Oscar is a regular guy. He spent his high school summers working in his dad’s landscaping business. He has always taken care of his little brother while his parents work tough jobs on crazy shifts. To his mother’s dismay, he chases girls, but he has never been too serious about them. Not long ago he found a job at the neighborhood grocery store. And earlier this summer, he got a text message from his lawyer saying his DACA application—which he started two years ago—had finally been approved. But after two months of waiting, no permit has yet arrived.
And, today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced DACA would “wind down.”
“Will They Cancel Everything?”
Right now no one knows exactly what that means. “Will they cancel everything?” Oscar wonders. Based on a statement from Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke, it sounds like Oscar should be able to receive the work permit he requested and no action will be taken against him or any DACA recipient until March 5, 2018.
But Oscar has already put his college education on hold. “Family comes first,” he says. His parents are in a complicated situation with immigration law and need expensive legal help. Oscar is a good son and agreed to put off college and work full-time to help with the bills and eventually, they all hope, help pay the visa fees for both parents, Oscar and his older brother to live in the United States legally. (Oscar’s younger brother was born here.)
DACA could help with this plan, too, even briefly, if the permit comes quickly enough. The grocery store job is the only one he can get without papers. “I have been offered jobs already, but I have denied them because of my legal status,” Oscar says. “If I get a better job, I would have the money that is needed and then hopefully would be going to school.”
But without that chance, Oscar remains in limbo. And he knows that putting off college now could well mean never going later. “I feel trapped,” he says. “I try to surround myself with positive vibes so I won’t fall apart. I know the stress and depression are inside me but I try not to show it.”
“Every time I check the mail, all I’m thinking is, Is it coming? Anything in the mail for me?’”