Local 'Dreamers' react to federal action cutting DACA

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Frank Schultz
Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The valedictorian of Delavan-Darien High School's Class of 2017 is hoping to get a job to help put himself through college.

A recent UW-Milwaukee graduate from Janesville was able to do the same because she had a work permit.

Both are able to get driver's licenses, something they would not have been able to do in Wisconsin if not for the 2012 presidential order that created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA.

Now, as the government moves to end DACA, they face uncertainty.

Ismael Coello, the valedictorian who started school this week at UW-Milwaukee, is hopeful.

“At first, I was very apprehensive because it's putting everything at stake,” he said. “My whole life living here has been leading up to going to college. ... But I'm still also hopeful that Congress can find a way to solve the problem and maybe create a better plan than DACA.”

Cinthia Tellez, who graduated from Janesville Parker High School and UW-M, said she will continue helping others with immigration problems and hope for the best.

DACA allows some people who were brought to the United States illegally as children gain legal status so they don't have to live in the world of most other undocumented immigrants, working low-wage jobs, some with fake IDs and with the constant fear of deportation that could separate them from loved ones.

The DACA registrants gave up information about themselves and their families. Tellez said she and many others hesitated revealing that information to the government, but in the end they did it.

Coello said he had to pay almost $500 to register. Each time he renews, it's similar amount.

Tellez said she delayed signing up for DACA to save the money.

DACA allowed her to get jobs that pay better than the under-the-table jobs she saw many of her peers take, Tellez said. She was able to file income taxes and start a paper trail that will help her in the future.

President Donald Trump's administration this week ordered an end to DACA but with a six-month delay so Congress can pass legislation to replace it.

A spokesman for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said Ryan believes Congress can meet the deadline.

“It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president's leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country,” Ryan said in a statement.

Democrats protested the administration's action. State Rep. Mark Spreitzer of Beloit, for example, issued a statement saying: “By participating in DACA, they trusted the U.S. government with their futures so they could work, attend school and contribute more openly to their country. All of us must speak out and demand that our government honors that trust.”

The action leaves about 800,000 young adults who registered for DACA, including many local people, wondering what's next.

“It's not just DACA people affected. It's our families,” Coello said. “I can give people (who can't get a license) rides.”

And he accompanies undocumented people to the police station to pay fines or conduct other business when they are too afraid to do it alone. They feel safer with someone who has legal status, he said.

Coello continues to worry about friends and loved ones who didn't qualify for DACA. He says they are the latest group of immigrants pursuing the American Dream.

“They're not looking to go on welfare, not to be lazy. They get up in the morning, work two jobs. They contribute to Social Security out of their paychecks,” he said. “We're amongst you, now, and we're not a parasite. We're contributing people.”

Tellez, who won an award at UW-M “for her advocacy for undocumented college students in Milwaukee and her academic success as a communication major at UW-M,” aims to contribute to American society, too. When the DACA announcement came out, she talked to her employer, who agreed to arrange meetings for families so they could get good information about what's going on.

What's going on is not clear. While Trump called for Congress to act to protect the so-called Dreamers, his office also issued talking points to Congress, saying DACA recipients should “use the time remaining on their work authorizations to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States ...”

An administration official said Congressional action could keep those residents from having to leave, however.

It's a mixed message at best.

Coello and Tellez are happy with what DACA has allowed them.

“It doesn't give you any guarantee that you can stay in the country, but it's letting government know you're here, and they're not going to deport you,” Coello said.

Coello said DACA also provides the work permit, which comes with a Social Security number, although the card says “for work only.”

A bank turned him down when applying for credit because of the “for work only,” he said.

“I came here with my parents. They were looking for a better life, for me to have an opportunity they couldn't have,” Coello said.

He was 6 when he arrived. He attended schools in Lake Geneva and then Delavan.

Coello is majoring in materials engineering.

“I want to contribute to people and society and make the products--something that will help humanity, in a certain way,” he said.

Tellez just took a job at a bilingual Catholic school on Milwaukee's south side, where she is coordinator of after-school programs.

Someday, Tellez would like to try her hand at public service, maybe run for office, if she ever gets the chance to become a citizen.

As she waits, she said, she is learning about the struggles of her community in Milwaukee, something she sees as vital before she can aspire to represent them.

Tellez and Coello are like many other local Dreamers waiting for word on what Congress might do.

“I'd like something solid, something permanent,” Coello said. “Not something that can change at any moment.”

Asked what she would advise Ryan as Congress crafts a DACA replacement, Tellez said: “He should talk to those who are being affected because there are a lot of bright minds out there.”

Tellez said immigrants are good for the economy, a belief she shares with many economists, so she'd like to see a law that works not just for Dreamers but for all the undocumented, “because at the end of the day, a Dreamer is only a Dreamer because the parents were here first, and it needs to be done in a way that it includes the family,” she said.

Tellez remembers the town hall in 2014 when she told Ryan how she was stuck paying out-of-state tuition at UW-Rock County and could not apply for federal financial aid. She wanted to know when immigration reform would come.

“Immigration is a good thing for America. Most of us come from immigrant stock,” Ryan said at the time.

He also said, “I think this is going to get done because it has to get done.”

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