Adonahi Meza was 7 years old when he and his sisters were brought to the United States from Mexico, much like 640,000 other undocumented children. Since 2004-2005, Meza has resided in Athens. During Meza’s senior year of high school, he acquired a renewable two-year protection from deportation and eligibility for a work permit and driver's license through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which would allow him to attend Athens Technical College.
Shortly after being sworn into office, President Joe Biden sent a sweeping immgration proposal to Congress. The proposal calls for a fast-track path to citizenship for dreamers, temporary protection status holders and some immigrant farmworkers. For local DACA recipients and undocumented people, this brings forth faith.
Under the immgration bill, DACA recipients would be eligible for a green card after living in the U.S. for five years, and could immediately apply for citizenship, while undocumented people would have to wait three more years after receiving their green card to apply for citizenship.
As both chambers of Congress have an adequate number of Democrats, this provides the opportunity for the bill to move forward.
“They've been waiting their whole life for this bill,” said JoBeth Allen, Co-Founder of U-Lead, an organization that helps immigrant students and students from immigrant families access and prepare for higher education. “We've been through four years of terror where nobody felt safe.”
Under the University System of Georgia policies 4.3.4. and 4.1.6., DACA recipients are prohibited from attending five of the state’s top universities; this would include the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia College and State University, the Medical College of Georgia and Georgia State University.
For Meza, the biggest change this would bring is the ability to access a permit or green card. That way, he would not have to fear deportation.
“It’s not healthy for a kid or anybody else to go with the fear of, ‘Am I [still] going to have my dad if we go to Walmart?’” Meza said. “Having some sort of type of driver's license or green card will definitely help us.”
Balbina Ramos, a DACA recipient who has resided in Athens since she was 3 years old and now attends Delaware State University, considers this country her home. During the Trump administration, Ramos had many sleepless nights worrying if she or her family would forcibly be moved back to Mexico.
“I couldn't focus in school, couldn't do normal tasks, because I was so stressed thinking, ‘What's going to happen if I have to leave this country?’” Ramos said. “I have family in Mexico, but I don't know them — I've never met them before and [that] is a foreign country to me. All I want is a legal path to citizenship.”
In 2013, former President Barack Obama’s administration offered a similar proposal to Biden’s immigration plan.
Kristen Shepherd, a staff attorney for the Community Health Law Partnership Clinic at the UGA School of Law, said politicians commonly use executive orders for progressive immigration policies. However, Biden is looking to pass legislation.
“[Executive orders are] where those arguments are coming up about how the administration’s not following the legislative process, or not doing a notice and comment period, with the new regulations and all of these technical requirements that happened through the legislative process,” Shepherd said. “If Biden is going to continue pushing through via legislation as opposed to the executive order, then I think that those challenges become less of an issue.”
Ramos believes there is a higher chance of approval from congress for citizenship involving dreamers and TPS holders, but anticipates pushback from lawmakers on immigrants.
By mounting pressure onto Biden and his administration, as well as Congress, Ramos hopes this will lead to meaningful change where past efforts for immigration reform have failed.
“If we don't pressure him to pressure Congress, and if we don't pressure Congress, it's not going to get done at all. I have been looking at the proposals — it's going to be very hard,” Ramos said.
Meza believes politicians need to be held accountable for immigration policy, since in the past they have felt short of their promises on immgration reform, such as when the Supreme Court tied and deadlocked Obama’s immigration proposal.
“We need to know who is actually fighting for us,” Meza said.