Why I Haven't Applied for Deportation Relief [OPINION]

PHOTO: daca

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Today marks the one-year anniversary since President Obama and the secretary of Homeland Security announced a program that gave deportation relief and work permits to young undocumented immigrants.

But not everyone has rushed out to sign up for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Take me for example. I was born in Ecuador and came to the U.S. to reunite with my parents when I was 5 years old. I'm now a college student living in New York City and I still don't have my papers. I am undocumented.

See Also: 50 DREAMers Who Prove Deportation Relief Was a Good Move

When DACA was first announced in 2012, three days before my birthday, I started collecting paperwork for the application. But that's where it ended.

The biggest impediment for me was the cost.

The total expense for the program is $465. In my case, I would be looking at even more expenses because I would need to clear my criminal record of several charges.

I was first arrested during an immigration-related act of civil disobedience in Washington, D.C. In July 2010, I participated in a sit-in inside a Senate building to show the urgency to pass the federal Dream Act, which would create a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants. And then again in 2011, when myself and other undocumented youth attempted to infiltrate an immigration detention center in Alabama.

So I would need to pay a lawyer to straighten out those things on my record. But even the cost of the program alone can be expensive.

Remember, when you're undocumented, you're not supposed to be working. And if you do have a job, you're more likely to earn less.

In my case, there's also the cost of college. New York State doesn't offer state financial aid for undocumented immigrants (other states, like Texas and California do) something that could change only with the passage of the New York Dream Act. Until then I have to pay out-of-pocket for my college education.

I'm saving for DACA right now, I'm just not there yet.

And I'm not the only one who hasn't applied to the program. In the process of waiting, I have come to realize that many other undocumented youth are holding off, not because of the fees, but because they do not qualify or because they have already been deported.

In August 2012, the Pew Hispanic Center estimated that 950,000 people would be immediately eligible for DACA. So far, about half that many have applied.

There are other problems with the program, too. Like how it reinforces the idea of "desirable" or "deserving" immigrants, and "model minorities." The requirements in DACA, like the ones in the current immigration bill in the Senate, create a world where there are good immigrants and bad immigrants. It's judging us from the start. And reality is more complicated.

You also have to remember that this program isn't permanent. Another president could end it, leaving people in a very vulnerable position. And it also doesn't allow you to get permanent legal status or citizenship. It doesn't let you get college financial aid or healthcare access, either.

The program is hypocritical, too. While the president is allowing some undocumented young people to stay in the country, he's deporting hundreds of thousands of others. Including our parents, neighbors, partners and friends.

I highlight these points because I think that we should use this anniversary to have a critical dialogue around DACA and immigration reform.

It's not that I think we should end the program. It does offer some type of relief for the undocumented youth that qualify. And it's amazing that many undocumented youth can now work and have access to jobs that they were excluded from.

However, DACA has never been an end goal, and it's never been enough. Our communities -- which include all undocumented youth, parents, women (domestic workers), so-called "unskilled" workers, LGBTQ and Trans people -- deserve more than what the program can ever offer.

We all deserve an immigration reform that does not criminalize our communities, that does not leave out our communities, that does not build more detention centers, that includes health care access, that does not separate families, and that stops putting more money into militarizing the border.

Let's not stop at DACA.

Sonia Guinansaca is a board member of the New York State Youth Leadership Council and student at Hunter College.

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