SPOKANE, Wash. — Maria McCray is a so-called DREAMER who was brought the United States illegally from Mexico by her parents when she was a young girl.
Fourteen years later, she and thousands of DACA recipients in Washington sit in limbo waiting for Congress to act on legislation that will no doubt impact their futures.
McCray was 8-years-old when her parents brought her and her four older siblings to the United States from Michoacán, Mexico. None of them had documents, but McCray said her parents were desperate for work, and to give them a better life. They initially landed in California before moving to the Tri-Cities where McCray went to school and settled in to her new life.
“I've lived here the longest and I don't recognize Mexico as my country anymore because I've been here the longest," she explained.
In 2013, McCray applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA. It was created the year before by then President Barack Obama to give young immigrants brought the US illegally as children relief from deportation if they meet certain criteria.
First off, applicants can’t be a risk to national security or public safety. Convicted felons or people convicted of significant or misdemeanors are not eligible. Only people who arrive in the U.S. before their 16th birthday are eligible. Applicants must be in school, a high school graduate or GED holder or be honorably discharged from the US armed forces or Coast Guard. DACA does not grant permanent resident status and does not provide a path to citizenship. Finally, recipients must re-apply every two years.
In the past six years, roughly 800,000 young people have been granted DACA status. More than 18,000 of those grantees live in Washington and about 3,200 live in Idaho.
“I kind of understood that it was something it was going to be really useful to me in the future applying to jobs and being able to study and all this stuff i didn't know I needed before," McCray said.
She just graduated from Washington State University and is now pursuing her master’s degree while teaching Spanish classes at the university. She’s married to a US citizen, an Army reservist, and has applied to become a legal resident with hopes of one day becoming a U.S. citizen. She said getting her citizenship means that she’ll officially belong to a country.
“Right now, even though I feel like the United States is my country, I feel like I don't belong here because I'm not a resident, or a citizen, and I don't belong in Mexico because I haven't lived there as long as I've lived here,” McCray explained.
She and hundreds of thousands of young immigrants like her are now in limbo.
In 2017, the Trump Administration announced an end to DACA, and told Congress to pass an immigration bill that addressed DREAMERS, which to date has not happened.
For now, DACA remains in place following rulings from federal judges in Washington D.C, California, New York. The Department of Homeland Security is appealing the judgements. This means DACA’s fate and the fate of recipients like McCray is up in the air. She admits, she’s worried.
“I'm afraid that if I end being deported to Mexico I'm going to be struggling over there. I don't see that as my country and I feel like I don't belong over there," she said.
With the midterm elections coming up on November 6, KREM reached out to both Congressional candidates Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Lisa Brown.
Brown said she believes DACA recipients should continue to receive protections from deportation.
“More than 1,200 students in eastern Washington who were brought to this country as children had the rug pulled out from under them in September of 2017, when the president unilaterally ended DACA without any proposed solution in place. Since then, these young people including students I’ve met with at Whitworth and WSU, have lived in uncertainty about their futures, and have been put in the middle of political posturing. That just isn’t right,” Brown said in a statement.
McMorris Rodgers said, “I believe we need to provide certainty for DACA recipients. I’m committed to working with my colleagues in the House to establish common sense policies for children of immigrants, policies that recognize that many of these children came to our country at no fault of their own. I’m disappointed that we haven’t got this done yet.”
KREM also asked both candidates if they elected, would they introduce stand-alone legislation to offer DACA recipients a path to citizenship or legal status in the United States.
“Yes. And I wouldn’t even have to introduce it myself, because the legislation is already right there on the table - the DREAM Act, which enjoys wide bipartisan support. Unfortunately, Rep. McMorris Rodgers and others in House leadership have refused to bring the bill forward. She says she wants to help students who were protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, yet, she supports the partisan strategy of holding back a solution for those young people in order to coerce a deal on other unpopular issues, like spending billions on a border wall. If I am in Congress, I will listen to Dreamers and fight for their priorities, including supporting a bill introduced by others, or introducing stand-alone legislation myself,” Brown said.
“I have voted in support of legislation to provide certainty to DACA recipients and I will continue to support that effort. In the end, we need to get this done, and I think the only way that we can get bipartisan agreement to move forward is with legislation that secures our border while also providing a path forward for DACA recipients,” McMorris Rodgers said.