CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When Yahel Flores arrived at the White House last summer he reflected on what was a “bittersweet moment” in his life.
Flores was one of several attendees for the 10-year anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. He recalled, while his undocumented status caused him to lose college scholarship opportunities, he gained in the protections provided through DACA.
In February, the Dream Act again was reintroduced by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina. If passed, the legislation would provide the pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers.” At least eleven versions of the Act have been introduced since 2001. Each has failed to move forward.
Despite the setbacks, some 24,000 DACA recipients in North Carolina — including Flores — continue to push forward.
“It’s put a lot of hindrance on my personal and professional career,” said Flores, the Carolinas Director for the American Business Immigration Coalition. “I have to tread very carefully on what I want to do and how I want to do things.”
With the reintroduced legislation, Flores says he has a renewed focus.
First launched in 2012, DACA allows young immigrants living in the country undocumented who were brought here as children to remain in the U.S. Recipients are often referred to as “Dreamers,” based on never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act.
Last October, judges from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against DACA. That decision sent it back to a lower court judge, who now ruled the program can remain temporarily, with limitations, while he reviews Biden administration revisions.
All parties involved in the DACA court case are expected to turn in written briefs next month. A hearing will be scheduled soon after, according to the National Immigration Law Center.
Recently, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein joined attorney generals from more than 20 states in defending the program. The state officials filed an opposing brief asking the judge to consider the damage that would be done by ending DACA.
“Dreamers should be able to study, work, and contribute to our communities without fear of deportation — a right that the U.S. Supreme Court has reaffirmed,” Stein said in a statement.
Flores said while the case remains under review, DACA recipients have been advised to renew their application as soon as possible. Recipients pay around $500 to renew every two years, but applicants are now advised to do it every 18 months.
“Imagine you want to excel in your career, want to excel in your personal life, or even want to excel with your significant other, but know that every two years there’s going to be some type of barrier,” Flores said.
Sharon Dove, director of the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s Immigrant Justice Program, said ”Dreamers” have continued to live in a terrifying and precarious position without a pathway to citizenship.
“They live with the reality that there is no permanency for them here right now,” Dove said.
But Flores’ experience over the years has led him to help others. He came to America from Mexico at the age of 7. His family moved from Texas to California before landing in Huntersville, North Carolina, he said.
His role with the coalition helps to get him in rooms and discussions others may not be able to.
“I just can’t sit and complain about something unless I’m trying to do something about it,” Flores said.
Access to opportunities
If DACA ends, it could have an adverse effect on the economy, something that is not often discussed, said Miguel Avila, Co-founder of Charlotte-based Daily View Pools LLC. In North Carolina, there are some 32,000 people who are eligible to apply for DACA, he said.
“That’s almost 32,000 North Carolinians that will contribute to the economy by starting families, buying homes, starting companies and bringing their talents to cities across North Carolina,” Avila said.
In 2021, DACA recipients and their households held $25.3 billion in spending power, according to the Center for American Progress. Recipients owned 6,800 homes, making $760 million in mortgage payments and $2.5 billion in rental payments annually that could disappear if DACA ended, the Center reported.
Avila, who is Mexican and a first-generation college graduate, said as a Latino entrepreneur, there already are barriers of entry — such as access to business loans. Inaction from Congress has made it harder for DACA recipients who could be immigrant entrepreneurs, he said
“Dreamers have an additional challenge to keep their status,” Avila said.
Avila said his documented status helped him to benefit from many opportunities others did not have. Growing up in Charlotte, he knew documented and undocumented families. While he went on to become a first-generation college graduate at UNC Charlotte, those he knew who were undocumented were not as fortunate.
The unclear future of DACA makes it difficult for business owners, Flores said. Paying application fees every two years is a hurdle for small business owners who are recipients. Employers are also unsure if their staff will be recipients a year from now, he said.
Despite the uncertainty he will continue to push for legislation, he said.
“We will continue having faith that something is going to happen,” Flores said.