Stephanie Quispe, an Ocean side High School alumna and a participant in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, is on a mission to graduate from Hunter College’s behavioral neuroscience program a semester early, even if it means doubling up on course work.
“Once I have my bachelor’s degree,” Quispe said, “even if I get deported, I can figure it out from there.” She speaks Spanish at a sixth-grade level, so if she had to return to Peru, where she was born, she said she probably wouldn’t be able to get a degree there.
But despite the Trump administration’s Sept. 4 announcement of its intention to “wind down” the program, which provides work permits and temporary stays of deportation for the children of parents who entered the country illegally, forced removal is far from a sure thing for Quispe, 23, and the almost 800,000 DACA recipients in the U.S.
Although no new applications would be processed, those already enrolled would retain their legal status until at least next March, when all DACA-related permits are set to expire. The administration has left it up to Congress to figure out what to do, and has said that in the mean time, law-abiding “Dreamers,” another name for DACA recipients, would not be targeted.
The looming expiration date, however, and the president’s promise to “revisit the issue” if Congress fails to act, contribute to the sense of uncertainty among Dreamers in the wake of the announcement.
“It’s creating a lot of anxiety,” said Silvia Gallegos, a social worker at Circulo de Hispanidad, which offers support and education to area Hispanics, including DACA recipients. The uncertainty is also affecting Dreamers’ families, Gallegos said, which were involved in their children’s application process. The current political rhetoric about illegal immigrants, she added, has parents wondering, “Will I be deported too?”
She said that she tells her clients, “‘The president gave six months. Let’s hope.’ That’s the only thing I can tell them.”
Gladys Serrano, CEO of the Hispanic Counseling Center in Hempstead, agreed with Gallegos that DACA is “a family issue.” “Children don’t know what the future holds for them,” Serrano said. “Parents are feeling guilty about putting their kids into this position. It’s not [the Dreamers’] fault, but it’s not their parents’ fault, either. They wanted their children to survive, to give them opportunities.”
Serrano said that the best way to deal with the uncertainty is to avoid feeling hopeless. “We have to hope,” she said, adding that she has observed what she considers an “unhealthy preoccupation” with DACA.
Quispe has no such preoccupation. She doesn’t watch the news, she said, and heard about the administration’s actions through her sister, who is also a Dreamer. “When I’m in my zone, when my life is on a regular routine,” she said, “I’m OK.” Keeping up with the latest developments in Washington — even ones that directly affect her — distract from her goals.
But now, she said, she can’t avoid the news about the program. “It’s everywhere,” she said. “Every Facebook post, even on Instagram.”
When Quispe was young, her parents pushed her to work hard, to get good grades and to be independent. “They knew I wouldn’t be able to apply for federal financial aid for college,” she said, “and I would have to rely on merit scholarships.” Every semester in high school that her average fell below 95, she was punished.
Her parents told her about her status as an undocumented immigrant when she was 16. “And they told me, ‘This is why we pushed you so hard,’” she recalled. When she turned 17, her mother began suggesting that she try to get married to secure her citizenship in the U.S.
That would have been the easy route, Quispe said. “Get married at 18, get my residency, get citizenship and call it a day,” she said. “But I never really wanted the easy route. I never wanted someone to be able to hold it over my head that they gave me my citizenship.”
When President Obama signed DACA into law in June 2012, Quispe said, she was relieved that she wouldn’t have to go down that path, but otherwise it didn’t really change her outlook. “I was already working off the books, but now I get to work on the books,” she said. “That’s really the only thing.”
Thanks to her father’s meticulous record keeping, her application process was short and easy. “They wanted every report card I got since coming to the States, and he had them all,” she said. “He used to use them to compare [my siblings]. ‘Oh, Stephanie got this in third grade — why didn’t you?’ But it’s a good thing he kept them.”
It also helped that her family came to the country on travel visas, and overstayed. “They needed proof of how long we’d been here, and he had the passports,” Quispe said, adding that people who crossed the border illegally, without passports or visas, had a much harder time.
Growing up, none of her friends knew that she was undocumented. “I think maybe some people had the idea,” she speculated, recalling an instance when she spoke out in class when a peer began talking about how illegal immigrants were taking Americans’ jobs.
She said that many professionals she knows “never felt threatened by us … The only ones who are worried about it are people who, no offense, haven’t worked hard enough … The people who see me as a threat, I find funny. Like I’m really so concerning to you that you think I can just take your job from you like that.”
“I don’t really take it seriously when people say I’m not an American,” Quispe said. “I feel like I’m in the same boat as someone whose grandparents came here.”
She said that Americans are strong, hardheaded, motivated and ambitious, and added, “Like me.”