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Lives left in the balance amid DACA uncertainty

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Elias Rosenfeld, a Brandeis sophomore, immigrated to Florida from Venezuela with his mother and older sister when he was 6 years old.

By Globe Staff 

Elias Rosenfeld, a sophomore at Brandeis University who is majoring in political science and sociology, dreams of becoming a lawyer.

But his future prospects dimmed at the start of the school year, when in September the Trump administration announced it would end a program that protects some young adult immigrants from deportation, immigrants like Rosenfeld, who were brought to the country as children.

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As each day passes without Congress or the president taking action on the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, Rosenfeld’s future in the United States dims a little more.

“My status expires in August. Past August, I can’t see my future,” the 20-year-old said. “How can I prioritize class? You can’t sit in class and be expected to concentrate when your entire future is being decided on.”

But the situation could be more immediate than Rosenfeld thinks. After Congress failed to include a fix for DACA in the temporary budget deal — leading to a three-day government shutdown — a Feb. 8 deadline was set for addressing the program.

Then, last week, Trump announced proposed legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants, but also includes demands that some in Congress said they are unlikely to accept. Currently, DACA is set to expire March 5, and the White House said if there’s no deal, all DACA recipients will be subject to deportation.

In the meantime, lives of so-called Dreamers hang in the balance.

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Madelyn Paz, a 24-year-old information technology intern at Eastern Bank, said the debate over DACA makes her scared, frustrated, and angry.

“I kind of stopped listening and searching out what’s really going on just because of how frustrating it is,” said Paz, who emigrated from Guatemala at 7 and has been a DACA recipient for five years. “I just don’t really turn on the news.”

But she can’t escape the negative comments about immigrants she overhears going about her day-to-day life.

“I’ve heard comments like ‘oh, they’re taking our jobs’ or ‘just go back to your country’ and ‘this is not where you’re from,’ ” she said. “But this is really the only place I would say I know. I built my life here.”

In high school, she couldn’t see a path to college. But through Year Up, a nonprofit that offers professional development training, corporate internships, and college credit to 18- to 24-year-olds, she found her way.

The program has also given her a sense of security. Her mentor texts often to check on her well being and the program’s founder has sent several
e-mails underscoring the organization’s support for the 300 students, staff, and alumni who are DACA recipients.

Paz has added her voice to the debate by sending a letter to Congress through an online advocacy campaign.

Rosenfeld is also fighting to remain in the only country he’s ever really known, spending more days in Washington, D.C., this school year, lobbying on behalf of three advocacy groups, than he has in Boston.

These are not average political briefings about immigration, he said, but “meetings on . . . what your future is.” He called Congress’s inaction “heart-breaking and betrayal.”

He immigrated to Florida from Venezuela with his mother and older sister when he was 6. They arrived legally on a visa that would have provided his family a path to citizenship, but then his mother was diagnosed with kidney cancer and died. When that happened, Rosenfeld’s legal status, and that of his sister, changed.

“The only fault I had is that my mom passed away,” he said. “Had my mom not passed away, I would be a citizen today.”

Rosenfeld’s 22-year-old sister, who lives and works in Orlando and also has DACA status, is more reticent about speaking publicly about their legal status. But, he said, their private conversations include what to do if they are detained by immigration officials.

“It’s a weird situation,” he said. “Who would we go back to? My grandpa recently passed away, and he was our only connection from home. And my dad and my sister and me are from two different countries. He’s Argentinian.”

Ledys Ham’s DACA status expires in October, and the 18-year-old college freshman is considering renewing it ahead of the March 5 deadline. But she’s not sure how much help that would be.

“Right now, we don’t have a plan,” said Ham, who is studying early childhood education at Lesley University. “It’s very complicated because we’re a mixed status family. Who knows what might happen.”

Her family is from Honduras, and her father has been granted Temporary Protected Status, which the Trump administration indicated it may revoke for the country. Her mother is undocumented, and her siblings and nephews have a different legal status.

Ham said her father has talked to her about going to Canada on a student visa or, if it comes to it, another period of family separation. The family has only reunited in the last two years.

She was in kindergarten when she and her mother left Honduras, leaving behind her siblings. Her father was already in the United States. Now, she works at the elementary school that was a safe haven to her as a child.

“I’m just so happy I can go there but then I come back home, and it’s like that all could be taken away,” she said. “That’s frightening.”


Akilah Johnson can be reached at akilah.johnson@globe.com
Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.