For Athens area youth brought into this country as children, a future clouded with uncertainty

Online Athens 01.04.2017

Jaime Rangel’s parents brought him to Georgia from Mexico when he was an infant. He’s gone to school here, always spoken English and Spanish, and feels like any other American young adult.

But now he’s worried, like almost every other young person living in the United States thanks to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program enabling people brought to the U.S. as children to remain without official immigration action.

Rangel, 25, is now part of the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance.

“I am from Mexico, a city called Apan,” said Rangel “I was three months old when we moved to the U.S., I’ve pretty much been here my whole life.”

The election of Donald Trump has sparked uncertainty and fear among GUYA members and their families. Trump’s anti-immigrant stance, and his pledge to deport people without official papers, has disrupted immigrant communities in the Athens area.

As of June 2016, 28,045 DACA applications were accepted in the state of Georgia. The countrywide number is far greater, “we are talking about 800,000 to a million kids,” said Rangel.

“Everybody’s mad, worried, upset,” said Rangel. “A lot of us are just kids, we are people who have been here our whole lives.”

If DACA is abolished and they are deported, they would be thrust into an unfamiliar country.

“This is all they’ve ever known, they’ve grown up in the U.S. society and system, they’ve gone to U.S. schools, they’re going to U.S. colleges,” said Susan Wilson, director of the Athens Latino Center for Education and Services, an organization that helps clients renew their DACA status. Deferred action lasts for a two year period before it must be renewed.

As valuable as DACA is to people brought to the U.S. as small children, participants wish it conferred full citizenship, which it does not.

DACA is “not what we wanted, but it gives us the chance to move freely,” said Rangel.

“They allow many young kids to fulfill their lives outside of the shadows. They would have a chance to give back to the country that has given a lot to them,” said Melissa Padillo-Vang, 26, who is on the advisory board for Freedom University of Georgia.

Freedom University is an organization providing education and assistance to undocumented students, who have been banned from public higher education in Georgia.

Padillo-Vang, who moved from Guadalajara, Mexico when she was 7, is not a deferred action recipient, but has been involved with many communities affected by it.

“Deferred action is important because it gives people, who in all but name, are U.S. citizens a chance to go for what they call the American dream,” said Wilson.

The future of DACA is uncertain, leaving Rangel and fellow GUYA members in what he called a “sit and wait situation.”

“We pretty much can’t do anything right now, until we find out what’s going to happen,” said Rangel.

But Rangel is not giving up hope.

“We are going to approach the situation with great courage, and keep our heads up” said Rangel “because it’s hard to do anything with your head down.”

Photo: Susan Wilson, executive director at the Athens Latino Center for Education and Services, teaches an English one level class, Wednesday, July 27, 2016 in Athens. (Photo/ John Roark, Athens Banner-Herald)