Before Edder Martinez was a college graduate, he was an ICE detainee. “I spent my 20th birthday in immigration detention,” says Martinez, a DACA recipient and new alum of Arizona State University’s Class of 2018. “It was easier for you to go to jail than it was for you to go to school — that’s what life without DACA was.”
Mexico-born Martinez, 27, crossed the border with his mother when he was 5 years old. They settled with relatives in Phoenix in 1995, and Martinez’s mom immediately placed him in school. “The reason why she came to this country was for her children,” says Martinez of his undocumented mother. “To give her children a better education and better opportunities.”
More than a decade after graduating from high school, seeing no clear future, Martinez is back in the same uncertain situation — one that previously landed him in immigration detention and on the path to deportation.
Martinez is considered a “Dreamer” — an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the U. S. as a child. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which was introduced in Congress numerous times but never enacted, would have canceled deportations of undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. before their 16th birthdays. It also provided for a pathway to citizenship through college, employment, or military service for current, former and future undocumented high-school graduates and GED recipients.
Two years after the DREAM Act finally passed the House in 2010 but failed to get through the Senate, President Barack Obama established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative by executive action. Immigrants who would have been covered by the DREAM Act became eligible for a work permit, a Social Security card, a driver’s license and deferred deportation. They had a chance to work legally, afford college and travel without fear of being discovered to be undocumented. DACA gave nearly 800,000 Dreamers a degree of certainty.
But that assurance was upended last September when the Trump administration announced an end to DACA. President Trump gave Congress six months — until March — to come up with a permanent replacement for DACA. Two immigration bills are now being negotiated by GOP conservatives and moderates — one a hard-line bill introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and a more moderate “compromise” bill put together by the House leadership. Both bills have tough border security provisions, but only the compromise measure would offer a path to citizenship for the 1.9 million immigrants covered by DACA.