White Pickets: A Generational Story of How DACA Keeps the American Dream Alive

By Savanna Johnson, J.D. Class of 2022

Aurora* fled from Guatemala in the Spring of 2003 to escape gang violence and threats on her life. She came to the United States with her four young children, all under the age of eight, not knowing when she would see her home country again. As her children made friends and learned English in school, Aurora spent days and nights working multiple jobs to provide for them. Aurora had left behind a prosperous business in Guatemala; and it was only with her savvy business skills and tenacious entrepreneurism that she overcame language and economic barriers. For years she doggedly worked as first-generation immigrant and single mother to give her children a safe upbringing.

In 2012, Aurora, along with thousands of others living in the United States, was given hope. President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants a temporary stay of removal along with the ability to work and attend higher educational institutions. This program applied to anyone who had arrived in the United States before June 2007 and before they were sixteen years old; this included all of Aurora’s children.

Over the years, there has been some pushback against DACA, including the possibility of complete dissolution of the program. The current Presidential Administration, however, has taken steps to stabilize the existence of DACA. The individual and community economic, social, and educational impacts of DACA are far reaching and to many, DACA has given the opportunity to live the “American Dream” that before seemed forever out of reach.

According to data reported by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, today there are nearly 600,000 active DACA recipients. Most of them are very young, the average age being 26. They are college students, teachers, medical professionals, essential workers, attorneys, and members of communities of which most of them have been a part of for more than 15 years. DACA recipients as whole contribute more than $9 billion in taxes every year and over half of them have been employed in an essential capacity during the Coronavirus pandemic. Because of DACA, talented and intelligent young people have access to higher education and job opportunities previously barred to them. The hope that once inspired immigrants hundreds of years ago to come to America to build a better life is still alive for those with access to DACA. They can work and learn and contribute meaningfully to the communities they consider their home. DACA has given back the hope of creating the American Dream.

Today, Aurora’s children are living this “American Dream.” Her oldest graduated from college and works at worldwide tech company. Another is about to graduate from Princeton and start his doctoral degree. Another is a nurse, and her youngest is studying business and economics at an Ivy League school. It was Aurora’s refusal to give up, her resilience and will to keep teaching her children that if they worked hard and used the resources available to them, they could achieve anything. They learned from her, and thanks to DACA, they were able to cultivate their knowledge and skills and create a meaningful life for themselves.

I realize that not everyone has this story. Language, culture, and economic barriers can make it nearly impossible for qualified individuals to participate in DACA. I know the difference that access to critical legal aid can make in individual lives. I know Aurora. I know her spirit and her sacrifices. I know that so many like her are just waiting for an opportunity to make their world a better place by what they can contribute. That is why I decided to become an immigration attorney, and my work with the Immigration Clinic has better prepared me to help others realize their dream.

*Name has been changed for privacy