A Future for DACA Recipients: The “American Nightmare” for DREAMers

By Amelia Leaphart
Staff Writer

On November 21, The School of Theology held a screening of the documentary, The Unafraid. The film follows three DACA students in Georgia as they search for higher education. As Georgia is one of the states the bans DACA recipients from all in-state tuition and bans all recipients from attending the state’s top universities: University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Georgia College and State University. Georgia is one of three states, with Alabama and South Carolina, that have an outright ban on students on the grounds of immigration status. 

After years of trying to pass a law for a pathway to citizenship for children brought across the border, President Obama issued executive action to pass DACA in 2012. He hoped that Congress would pass further legislation to protect dreamers, which they failed to do. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals prevents deportation for two years for those qualified and brought into the United States illegally as children. 

The act allows DREAMers to have a drivers’ license, work, and be protected from deportation. However, the program is not amnesty nor a pathway to citizenship, it’s merely a two year delay before one must apply for a renewal. Eligibility requirements include: Having been under the age of 16 when entering the United States, living in the United States continuously since June 15, 2007, in school or have graduated high school or have been discharged from the military, and not have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three misdemeanors. 

The average age of DACA recipients is 25 years old and their average date of entry into the country is six years old. In 2017, the Trump Administration announced an end to the DACA program solely on the grounds that it was “not legal.” Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited the program as an abuse of executive power. 

The documentary opens with a shot of a teenage boy, Alejandro (17), cleaning the house while his parents are at work. His friend, Aldo (18), knocks on the door and jokingly shouts, “Immigration!”

They sit on the couch and reminisce about graduation and hope for the future. Alejandro wants to go to university and study sociology and art. He demonstrates an interest in history and social, political, and civil rights movements. Whenever he has a break from working two jobs, he breaks out his paints and pencils. Aldo talks of studying astronomy and getting a PhD. He likes the idea of studying what’s outside of the earth and what’s larger than himself. However, he quickly transports himself back to reality. He grimly speaks of how his future is one of unskilled labor and dead-end jobs. 

The other subject of the documentary Silvia (17). She lives with her parents and extended family and works at a fast-food restaurant to help care for her younger sisters. She aspires to be a nurse. When visiting a local community college, she learns that, despite her family paying federal and state taxes, she’s not qualified for in-state tuition nor federal financial aid. Instead, DACA recipients in Georgia have to pay the international student rate, which is four-times the in-state rate.  

Because of Georgia’s laws, the three search other states for their education. Namely small, private, liberal arts schools. Berea College in Kentucky is a tuition-free school founded by an abolitionist. It was the first college in Southern United States to be coed and racially integrated. Because of its history of inclusion and financial viability, all three subjects sent in applications. However, the school’s rare benefits renders it selective. Thus, both Aldo and Silvia receive disappointing letters. 

A scene where a family member discusses Silvia’s potential juxtaposed with an image of her mopping floors after reading her letter in a fast-food restaurant evoke a sense of regret in the viewer. Aldo’s family sits in the kitchen making tacos to sell. His mother comments on how they’re putting their legal status at risk by selling food made in their home. His uncle pats his back as Aldo stares at the table as he tells other family members that he wasn’t accepted. One of his uncles discusses the “American Nightmare,” where people like Aldo have a life of fighting. Fighting for money, education, legal status. 

Alejandro got his big packet in the mail. His friends who are staying home for the year came and wished him goodbye as he loaded his car. Berea’s campus offers a stark contrast to Alejandro’s trailer park outside Athens. When his mother and father leave, Alejandro sits on his bed and laughs about being a liberal arts student, “I have a water bottle now, next thing you know I’ll be playing ultimate frisbee. Oh, and this is a vegan pillow.”

This documentary’s depiction of these young people’s lives is poignant yet hopeful. The political movements these subjects participate in displays how young DREAMers are prepared establish their rights so that one day, all DREAMers can live without fighting. 

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