Nebraska Dreamin’

I recently took my 2 and 6 year-old daughters to a local credit union to open savings accounts. It was an exciting day for us all, especially for 6 year-old Zoey. We had their birth certificates and social security cards and when the bank officer asked for the numbers my wife read them off with no difficulty. That is when it hit me that the young Latino students, the “Dreamers,” I interviewed in December 2015 and January 2017 (a total of ten people) could do no such thing. Before DACA they could not so easily open a savings account and certainly were barred from doing other things that most of us take for granted, like getting a driver’s license or taking a plane to Chicago. While they can open bank accounts and board a plane with The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the social security number it allows them to attain, the fact that they have to be afraid, worry about the outcomes of such encounters and have concerns that the person in charge will not know or understand DACA creates stress and pressures that most people in the United States do not have. While many themes and issues arose from those interviews, I focus here on some of what DACA has done for them.

Although they were not born in Omaha they were all raised here or in surrounding areas so it should not surprise anyone that they all speak nearly perfect and un-accented English. The young people I interviewed are all in college and all better than average students. None of them have criminal records. The social security number that DACA grants is priceless as it allows them to work and contribute to household expenses, save for college tuition, fees and other [expenses]. They also value and love what the United States and Omaha have allowed them to do and the opportunities that the education system has allowed them to pursue. The following short account reveals the reality of one aspect of their existence in the United States and illustrates the importance of a nine-digit number that so many of us take for granted.

Every child must attend grade school but there are special programs, camps, and extra-curricular activities that add to the joy that the most eager learners feel at that age. The following quote from Marcella, a recent college graduate illustrates the point.

I learned that [I was unauthorized] in 6th grade. I wanted to sign up for like a math and science camp type of thing and it was really expensive. So [the teachers] were like, "If your parents don't earn enough [to pay for the camp] fill out this paperwork. Have their social security number in there and we'll get you financial aid for it." That's when I went home and I'm like, "oh that's easy, here mom you just need to fill this out. We got it!" and that's when they said, "mija come have a seat and that's when they told me you know you don't have papers [and] you can't tell anybody."

And it was not just about educational. She went on to discuss some of the other things, seemingly small things, but certainly beyond mere annoyances. When asked how DACA had changed her life (in addition to being able to work and travel) she said, “Yeah…like the little things too. Returning an item to the store like without a receipt. That was, it was [a] ridiculous process. That's why we keep a lot of our stuff…”

But there’s more;

“I had to carry my passport for a while too…yeah…cause when you show them your consulate card they're like, ‘well I don't know how to put this in. What is this?’ So you had to go through the whole process of like explaining to them what it is and then they have to go call their manager…”

After obtaining DACA she stated that “I felt more in control of my future...I felt more confident. I felt I wasn't just studying for nothing…So yeah I definitely felt a lot more confident like I had a future.” When asked about her feelings toward the DACA program she had this to say:

“I think that's why DACA was enforced, because nothing was being done and it still continues that way like nothing is being done about this. About kids who were born here who see themselves as part American, but yet there's nothing to that.”

In the end DACA recipients are not hiding in their rooms waiting for Immigration agents to deport them. They are working hard for their futures and to give back to their country, the country that has afforded them both benefits and hindrances. Andrea put it this way:

“I feel like I've…I can do everything that another person can do. I just gotta work maybe twice as hard for it, but it doesn't limit me.”

Back to the social security number; a privilege that most of us take for granted as we should. So what’s the difference between you and one of these young people? What did YOU do to obtain your social security number and all the privileges that go with it? DACA recipients are grateful. They recognize their privilege compared to others in similar situations. They also recognize their rights as cultural, economic, and social citizens of this country. They recognize their right to fight for their well-being and the well-being of their country, our country.
Dr. Thomas Sánchez

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