Cindy Carcamo and Brittny Mejia, Los Angeles Times, February 18, 2018
Ever since Sam Paredes crossed into the U.S. illegally from Mexico nearly 30 years ago, he followed a simple philosophy of keeping his head down and trying to stay out of trouble.
The 39-year-old put in long hours for little pay as an office manager at a clothing wholesaler. He paid his taxes and hoped that after many years of waiting, there would come an immigration reform that would grant him a pathway to becoming an American citizen.
But one glimmer of hope afforded many young immigrants escaped him: Because the New York resident came too long ago, he did not qualify for immigration relief under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA.
Now he watches as the White House and Congress continue to grapple and negotiate and argue — but at least talk about — the future of the so-called Dreamers.
“I’m very bitter. These DACA kids definitely have this sense of entitlement,” Paredes said. “People fought for them and they got DACA and they got their work permit and then they went to sleep, instead of working to fight for the rest of us.”
Senators failed to reach a bipartisan bill on the future of the young immigrants and border security. The defeat of the bills in the Senate makes it increasingly likely that no legislative solution for DACA will happen this year, although some senators say they may try for a short-term extension of the program.
There are many reasons Dreamers have moved to the center of the debate about illegal immigration. Many say they are here illegally through no fault of their own, brought as children by their parents. Many Dreamers have gone on to college and public service, making them ideal poster children in the debate.
But the focus on Dreamers has caused tension between those in the community who can qualify for DACA and those who cannot.
Alessandro Negrete, 35, was getting ready for a night out in downtown Los Angeles recently when one of his friends worried aloud about Trump taking away the protection he got from the DACA program.
Negrete, a public relations worker, was 3 months old when a smuggler carried him from Mexico into the United States. Too old now to apply to become a Dreamer, he said he cannot help but feel resentment at how much attention the plight of this one segment of the immigrant community is receiving while people like him seem to get so little.
“You think you have it hard?” he angrily told his friend. “You at least have legal status. For some people like me, my mom and some of my neighbors, we don’t have [that].”
Earlier this month, Hilario Yanez, a DACA recipient and immigrant rights activist, went on the TV show “Fox & Friends” and expressed his support for Trump’s legislation, stating that he believed the president has shown “leadership and compassion toward” him and other Dreamers.
Yanez drew praise from many conservative immigration hawks — including right-wing media outlets, such as Breitbart.
At the same time it sparked outrage in the immigrant rights movement, with some saying that Yanez embodies the extreme stereotype of entitlement among some DACA recipients.
Javier Hernandez Kistte, a 27-year-old DACA recipient, with his mother Vania Kistte, 54, at their home in South L.A. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Karla Estrada, a DACA recipient and longtime immigrant rights activist who lives in Los Angeles, said Yanez’s comments come as no surprise.
“For months now, everyone has been freaking out. As things have been getting ugly and desperate, the divide between DACA recipients has become more prevalent,” Estrada said.
One group wants clean legislation that will provide a pathway to legalize DACA recipients but with no strings attached, such as doing away with the visa lottery. The second group is willing to take whatever they can get as long as they get some sort of immigration relief, Estrada said.
Although Estrada is lobbying for legislation with no strings attached, she said she’s trying hard to understand why other DACA recipients would be willing to compromise.
“I truly believe that desperation has led some of us to the degree, I’m hoping, of temporary insanity. They see no other option They see no other door,” she said. “It’s very disheartening and sad. We’re supposed to be a united community and we obviously are not.”
Some argue that DACA recipients should settle for whatever Trump can give them because the alternative would be life without work permits. They have bills to pay and mouths to feed, they say. Other DACA recipients said they refuse to support legislation that will help them if it means it will hurt loved ones, including parents.
One of the large issues during the negotiations over the bipartisan bill the past few weeks was that Dreamer organizations were reluctant to sign onto any bill that would protect their status but not protect their parents or other family members. It was a major reason three Democratic senators voted against a compromise bill.
Although DACA is slated to end in March, activists and legislators, including some Republicans, have rallied to support the program.
This comes at a time when many of the country’s approximately 11 million immigrants in the country illegally feel painted as criminals and DACA recipients are being leveraged by the Trump administration to achieve concessions from Democrats on stricter border security and tougher immigration enforcement.