IDAHO — In 2012, Betsaida Chavez-Garcia was in her fourth year of undergraduate studies at the College of Idaho.
She remembers being concerned and scared of what may lie ahead after graduation.
“Beyond that, I also wanted to go to higher education. I wanted to enroll in a master’s program. I had big dreams to get a Ph.D. if that was the route I wanted to go towards. At that moment, I didn’t think I was going to be able to pursue any of those dreams, and in fact, I was trying to figure out what I was even going to do in this country,” Chavez-Garcia said.
It was that same year when she heard about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.
"I remembered I was sitting in a parking lot, and I received a text message from a really good friend of mine. I had not heard of this being brought up. I quickly called my mom and realized how big of news it was," Chavez-Garcia said.
Nine years later, Chavez-Garcia is now a staff attorney at Immigrant Justice Idaho in Boise which provides free and low-cost immigration legal services.
She said DACA allowed her to experience new opportunities and achieved higher education.
“I was able to take an opportunity to join a volunteer program that took me to live across the country. I was living in Tennessee for two years, and one of those years, I was doing volunteer work and that’s where my passion for the law started. I was working in legal services helping migrant farmworkers. It was that move and opportunity that really instills that passion to help others and so I decided, with DACA in place and the ability to continue to dream for bigger things, I decided to move back to my community,” she said.
Recently, Chavez-Garcia earned her Juris Doctor (JD) degree from the University of Idaho College of Law.
Tuesday marked the ninth anniversary of DACA’s implementation under Former President Barack Obama. The policy allows undocumented individuals, sometimes called "dreamers," who were brought to the U.S. as children to work and protects them from deportation.
However, DACA doesn’t provide a pathway to citizenship. Applicants would have to apply every two years.
“DACA has been a case that has been ongoing now. There were various lawsuits and currently a lawsuit pending in Texas,” she said.
On Tuesday, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 had a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The proposed bill could be a pathway to permanent legal status for Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders.
“Dreamers have taught schoolchildren in our nation’s classrooms, dazzled audiences at world-class music venues, like Carnegie Hall, fought in American wars, and started American businesses. And during the past year, as our nation was ravaged by a pandemic, and we were cheering on the health care heroes who risked their lives every minute of every day, Dreamers were saving American lives,” said U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Like DACA recipients, TPS recipients have saved lives during this pandemic. More than 130,000 TPS holders are ‘essential critical infrastructure workers’ including 11,600 health care workers.”
Ranking committee member and Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley believes any proposed legislation that provides citizenship should address security measures at the border.
In Grassley’s opening remarks, he said
"First, they would provide legal status to millions of illegal immigrants who have no connection at all to the DACA program – including illegal immigrants who were not even in the United States when DACA was created. In the case of the American Dream and Promise Act, an illegal immigrant need only have been in the United States since January 1st of this year in order to qualify.”
Chavez-Garcia said every dreamer has a unique story on how they benefited from DACA.
“I have myself been here since I was six years old and definitely call this place home,” she said.
To watch the full video of the Senate Judiciary Committee click here.