Indy immigrants impacted by DACA decision

People hold signs about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program during "Prayer for DACA" on Sept. 5, 2017, at St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Indianapolis. (WISH Photo/Brenna Donnelly)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The White House statement Tuesday morning on the phaseout of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was met with both fear and hope in Indianapolis.

Fear, as 800,000 DACA-documented youth may lose their temporary legal status, and hope, as thousands more look for a more permanent policy for undocumented youth already in the United States.

“We knew since (President Barack) Obama announced DACA that it was a temporary fix,” said Guadalupe Pimentel, a DACA document recipient. “So now with the announcement it’s time to fight for something at a federal level that protects not only ‘Dreamers,’ but their parents.”

Pimentel said she received DACA status about five years ago and has since enjoyed receiving a driver’s license, permission to attend Indiana University Purdue University-Indianpolis, and a legal path to work as a legal aid for a local law firm. She said she has fought for the rights of her fellow second-generation immigrants resulting in her imprisonment in the Marion County Jail in 2011.

“We knew that that was a risk, deportation was a risk, and so it was a risk we were willing to take,” Pimentel said.

She and several others staged a sit-in at the Indiana Statehouse wearing graduation caps and gowns. She was taken to the jail and was put on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold for 48 hours.

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“I remember being in the elevator with the police officer and she said you’re going home, and, in my mind, I said, ‘I don’t know what home she’s talking about.’ It could be Mexico, it could be here,” Pimentel said. “I asked her and she said, ‘Oh, you’re saying here.'”

Ever since then, Pimentel has advocated for youth immigrant rights through the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance as a founding member. She believes DACA was effective but not the final solution to the immigration documentation problem.

“I was a great Band-Aid for a while but I think we need to take into consideration the individuals that didn’t qualify for DACA that do need a pathway to citizenship,” Pimentel said.

Immigration attorney Sarah Burrow, with Lewis Kappes, has several clients in Pimentel’s position.

“I’m trying really hard to stay positive. I am trying to reassure people that those who have DACA now will remain here with valid DACA documents,” said Burrow, referencing a memo sent to her by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at the conclusion of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement on DACA Tuesday morning. “I had a gal call and say, ‘Can I go to work this afternoon?’ So, I looked at her documents and said, ‘Yes, you’re valid to stay until May of 2019.'”

Burrow said DACA brought several immigrants out of the shadows of society and enabled them to be productive members of the Indianapolis community.

“Being able to work, get driver’s licenses, go to school, just feel more comfortable in our city and in our communities as far as driving with licenses and being involved in their children’s school activities because they’re not fearful, talking to law enforcement, things like that,” Burrow said. “My concern is that it will draw a lot of people back into the shadows.”

DACA recipients like Pimentel said that won’t happen to her.

“I don’t intend to go back into the shadows. I intend to continue advocating for legislation that’s inclusive to our parents, to individuals that got here after June 2012,” she said.

Burrow is also heading to the center stage of the issue. She told 24-Hour News Eight she’s headed to Washington, D.C., next month to lobby as the advocacy liaison of the Indiana Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

“I think because of that role I’m try to look at this as ‘it’s six months,’ but this is an opportunity,” Burrow said.