In 2016, Gonzalo Gonzalez dreamed of attending college, owning a house and one day obtaining his citizenship. However, on the night after the 2016 presidential election, Gonzalo Gonzalez didn’t sleep.
“I thought we would lose everything immediately,” he said.
Gonzalez, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient, immigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was 6 years old and said Athens is the only home he’s known. He has no recollection of his time in Mexico.
DACA grants those who came to the U.S. as children protection from deportation and eligibility to apply for work permits and a driver’s license. DACA allowed Gonzalez an opportunity to “live, not just get by” in the country.
Every four years, Gonzalez has the same feeling of anxiety and dread as the presidential election approaches. Each election, the fate of DACA is voted on, but recipients can’t participate. Only U.S. citizens are eligible to vote — not green card holders, DACA recipients or residents. A permanent resident or green card holder is someone who has been granted the right to live in the U.S. indefinitely. After a certain period of time, they may apply for citizenship.
“Our future is in the hands of other voters, who may or [may] not care about us,” Gonzalez said. “Each election I get so scared, so scared the next president will take everything away from us.”
Gonzalez, 23, received a full-ride scholarship to study sociology with a focus in criminal justice at Stetson University in Florida. If Donald Trump is reelected and attempts to end DACA once again, Gonzalez fears his time in college and working will be for nothing.
The Trump administration has made several attempts to defund, end or alter the DACA program, most recently by limiting renewals to one year instead of two. On June 18, the Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration from ending the program. However, the decision doesn’t prevent further elimination proposals. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said the Trump administration is still looking to “end an unlawful program,” according to Politico.
Presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden vowed to instill DACA as a permanent program on his first day as president.
DACA helped Yareli Lopez pursue her dream of attending college—she now attends Eastern Connecticut State University. She once hoped to attend The University of Georgia but realized the university didn’t admit undocumened students.
In 2010, The University System of Georgia passed policies 4.3.4 and 4.1.6., which both banned undocumented students from attending top universities in the state of Georgia such as Georgia College and State University, Georgia Tech, and UGA.
Before Lopez became a DACA recipient in 2018, she said she lived in constant fear of being deported.
“I’ve already lived without DACA and it’s horrible, it’s scary. It’s like being punished in a country you call your home,” Lopez said. “It’s so difficult to know every election American citizens could choose a president who will end the program and I’ll be back to that life.”
Whether it’s deciding to study, buy a car or clothes, Lopez said she makes every decision knowing her life could change every election. She lives in fear that American voters won’t vote for her rights and future.
Damarys Jara, who also attends Eastern Connecticut State University and is a DACA recipient, said she’s sacrificed thousands of dollars and worked hard to defy the odds of being an immigrant in the U.S. Since kindergarten, she was told she wouldn’t work or go to college due to her legal status. Now a university student, she’s worried others could derail her efforts.
“I always have been, and I will continue to be hard working but it is very discouraging when you know there's so much on the line, and we don't have a voice or vote,” Jara said. “I don’t get a vote in my own future but everybody else does.”
‘I’d give anything to vote’
Berenice Soliz and her family immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when she was two years old. For years, Soliz was a DACA recipient and “painfully” aware that she couldn’t vote. In 2018, she took the next step and became a green card holder.
“I actually thought I would be able to vote now as a permanent resident but I can’t. I still have to plan only four years ahead, knowing the next year of voting could change my future,” Soliz said.
Since she can’t vote, Soliz spreads awareness about DACA and immigration rights to those who can. She said citizens are quick to forget how many in the U.S. don’t have the right to vote and urged voters to think of the non-voting community in November.
If she could vote, Soliz would advocate for immigrants’ and women’s rights — she said BIPOC women and immigrants are often forgotten and need a president who will fight for them.
Gonzalez said he would vote against police brutality and for policy changes that benefit African American and Black communities. He’d also advocate for a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients. Jara said she would also push for a permanent solution and piece of mind for DACA recipients as well as universal insurance.
Since she was young, Lopez has been envious of her friends and citizens who are eligible to vote. If she could, she said she’d vote for her future, for her parents to visit Mexico one day and for DACA students’ rights to stay and work in the country.
“We deserve this, we deserve to vote. If I could vote, I’d vote for everyone who is told they don’t belong or are forgotten in this country,” Lopez said. “My parents may have brought me here when I was little, but that doesn’t make me any less American.”