10 years of DACA. You know, as I started seeing social media post about the coming anniversary, asking people to share their story and how it changed their life, I just kept scrolling. Non-Profits don’t want to hear the story of a curmudgeon 37-year-old DACA recipient. Bruh, I don’t wanna read that story either, which is why I was dragging my feet on writing something to share on the day of the anniversary, June 15th. But here I am, trying to reflect on how much my personal life and the world have changed in the last 10 years.
Ever since I first got involved with the undocumented youth movement here in L.A., it became a major part of my life. It showed me that I wasn’t alone, that others have been fighting and putting themselves out there in a time when being public about your undocumented status wasn’t the norm. Plugging into the movement gave me a purpose, it fostered a space to make lifelong friendships, it let us challenge and fight the system with the support of countless allies. I look back on those times with fondness because as messy as they were, they were real. Genuine. It was a privilege to be in those spaces and I am glad that I was there taking hard-to-read notes on butcher paper, sending out email reminders for meetings, leading workshops, and eating tacos with the homies.
Many of these spaces grew out of the work that was started with the fight to pass in-state college tuition and the first iteration of the federal DREAM Act. Back in the early 2000s, only a handful of states passed legislation that allowed undocumented high schools the ability to pay in-state fees versus international fees. In California, that happened in 2001 with AB 540. From there, you have undocumented youth heading to college and starting support groups/clubs. As more undocu youth graduated every year, groups/clubs keep growing until a statewide coalition of these groups/clubs is founded under Chirla in 2003, the California Dream Network. I didn’t connect with the movement and network till 2007.
The next iteration of the movement came around 2008 when Chirla, at the time, didn’t allow graduating youth to continue organizing with the network because they weren’t college students anymore. So, folks started their own groups, Dream Teams, to continue fighting and pushing the non-profit industrial complex to do more. At one point there were Dream Teams in LA, Orange County, Inland Empire, San Gabriel Valley, and more up and down the state. Those Dream Teams and other community-based groups across the country lead to the formation of a national effort to start uniting resources, connect with each other, and push for the federal Dream Act once again. The movement got hella close, but political ransacking and non-profits protecting their interest eventually won out. That was in 2010 and with the fight for the federal Dream Act on hold for the foreseeable future, the movement reflected, processed, partied, and began planning for the next fight.
Here in Cali, the fight was on passing legislation that would complement AB 540, giving undocu youth access to state funds and scholarships, the California Dream Act. It was passed in 2011. But at the same time, others were already brainstorming on what would be the next national campaign that would bring everyone together in one collective push. Depending on who you ask, a few different people take credit for it, but that is beside the point cause from that collective strategizing, folks put together the initial idea of what would eventually become Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Months of protest, social media campaigns, people getting arrested, and backdoor conversations made DACA happen. It was the collective win the movement was looking for and finally got. That was in 2012.
So why the hella broad & short history lesson when I’m supposed the be reflecting on the 10-year anniversary of DACA? Cause DACA wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for all the work that was done by undocumented youth and their allies across the country in the last 20 years. No single non-profit or organization can ever claim that, as much as they may try. The movement did that. It was also the last thing that iteration of the movement would do. The time for change had come.
DACA made my quality of life easier. For more than 20 years, I had to learn how to live a dignified life in a country that only wants me as an exploitable, taxable, and disposable resource. I reflected heavily on this transition in the beginning by talking to homies, writing, and just living my life two years at a time. Every other year I had to renew it brought moments of further reflection and animosity toward the perpetual loop I’m stuck in. Wondering if my application will be denied and I’d be put on some list to be detained. Those feelings and thoughts are still there, but not as loud as they use to be. I appreciate time humbling me and giving me the opportunity to find the maturity I needed in my 20s. DACA made things easier, including moving on from the movement that I desperately longed for when I first found it.
It was just time to go do something different and at this point, there was a new wave of undocumented youth coming up, making the movement their own. Of course, the non-profit industrial complex co-opted the movement when it came time to collect checks from foundations to do work around DACA when it was first enacted and when that pendjo wanted to end the program. The messaging is always the same, help us save DACA and protect dreamers because they contribute to the economy, pay taxes, and buy things from amazon, they are a vital part of the workforce. Our value is directly tied to how much money and labor we can contribute to the economy. Been like that since the days of the Bracero Program. I wish I could say that in the coming years, things will change for the better, and DACA will eventually become the pathway to legalization that it was originally intended to be, but my pessimism just won’t let me dream like that anymore.