Activist countries

Why these DACA recipients left the United States for other countries

Since 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has protected more than 800,000 immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation, allowing them to work, drive and travel legally.

But the program never offered a pathway to citizenship.

Former President Trump decided to end DACA shortly after taking office, but the program narrowly survived when the Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that his administration had done so improperly. DACA became embroiled in litigation and court rulings limited the program to renewals. A case challenging its legality is expected to reach the Supreme Court, where legal experts believe the Conservative majority will overturn it.

A growing number of DACA recipients are choosing to leave the country to gain permanent legal status. Here are some of their stories.

Monsy Hernandez, 28, from Mexico, lives in Germany

Mexican-born Monsy Hernandez had DACA until 2017 when they left the United States and moved to Germany.

Monsy Hernandez became an activist fighting for universal health care out of high school. The 18-year-old, who had crossed the US border as a child, grew up in South Carolina without access to medical or dental insurance.

Hernandez continued his advocacy by calling for an end to raids by immigration officials in the state. But after other activists and Hernandez’s mother were arrested, Hernandez, who uses the pronouns them/them, decided to look for a place where they could feel safer.

Hernandez settled in Germany, where their husband obtained a freelance work visa. They left in 2017.

At first, being in Germany was isolation – it was the first time Hernandez had moved away from his family in a country where they didn’t speak the language. They felt stupid for giving up the “American Dream”.

Those feelings were compounded when Hernandez found out on a call with a fellow “Dreamer” who was considering relocating that they had been banned from returning to the United States for 10 years as punishment for trespassing.

Last year, Hernandez and two other former DACA recipients formed ONWARD — Our Network for the Wellbeing and Advancement of Relocated Dreamers — a support group for people who have left or are considering leaving the United States.

Hernandez is now in school learning German and plans to study social work. It was something they had not been able to do in the United States, because of the cost and because they had taken on the responsibility of raising two younger siblings while their mother was detained.

This decision has also proved positive in other respects.

In South Carolina, being poor, non-binary and Mexican were labels Hernandez was ashamed of. People had harassed them because they lacked legal status, they said. But in Germany, no one knew enough to judge, Hernandez said, and they could shake off the negativity they carried.

“I recognized there was something there: there was a Mexican identity, but this time I looked at it with love,” they said. “I can’t even describe what it’s like to have hated everything you are all the time you were growing up and then realize that this is actually this wonderful thing you should have celebrated all along. .”

Nancy Touba, 31, Ivorian, lives in the UK

Nancy Touba had always dreamed of visiting the UK.

In high school, when she started thinking about where she could go to college, her parents dismissed the idea of ​​studying abroad, telling her it was too expensive. They had also talked her out of getting a job at 16, telling her to just focus on school.

Touba, who was born in Ivory Coast and moved to Virginia with her family when she was 7, felt there was something deeper tied to her immigration status. But she didn’t press her parents about it, she said, and decided to go to the University of Connecticut with the help of a scholarship.

Ivory Coast-born Nancy Touba was a DACA beneficiary

Ivory Coast-born Nancy Touba was a DACA recipient who chose to leave the US and lives in the UK

(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

In 2012, then-President Obama announced the creation of DACA, and Touba eventually learned she had no legal status when her mother hired an attorney to help her apply.

With DACA, Touba earned her master’s degree in public health and later worked as a researcher for a pharmaceutical consulting firm in New York. But when she turned 30, she began to think she had never left the United States

She said she felt increasingly uncomfortable with the state of the country and had lost hope that DACA recipients would be granted citizenship.

At the same time, his mother had also remarried and had just become a legal permanent resident.

“I was very happy for her, but I think it was bittersweet for me,” she said. “We were both together. And then when she got her green card… she was able to leave, so it was kind of like I was left behind. That’s when I started to think I’d had enough.

Touba had been in his post for nearly three years. She knew the company had other offices around the world, including in the UK. So she asked for a transfer.

After submitting her application, her work visa was accepted within three weeks. In five years, she will be able to apply to be a permanent resident. His mother, who is now an American citizen, plans to visit him next summer.

“The United States is shooting itself in the foot,” she said. “Once upon a time, probably before the Trump administration, I would have said that I was very proud to live in the United States, even under DACA. There are other countries where we can go where they will actually accept us .

Itziri Gonzalez-Barcenas, 26, from Mexico, lives in France

Itziri Gonzalez-Barcenas grew up in a small town southwest of Raleigh, North Carolina. Her parents, rural farmers from Mexico, had brought her across the border when she was 5 years old.

They were open about his immigration status. In elementary school, she once came home from a job fair and asked them about college — they said she might not be able to go. In high school, she signed up for a driving lesson just for the experience, only to be embarrassed when the instructor repeatedly reminded her that she had to provide a social security number.

Gonzalez’s father first told him about DACA. She got it before she turned 18, immediately got a job at a local restaurant, and signed up for extracurricular activities to boost her resume for college.

Itziri Gonzalez-Barcenas, born in Mexico, was a DACA beneficiary who chose to leave the United States

Itziri Gonzalez-Barcenas, born in Mexico, was a DACA beneficiary who chose to leave the United States and lives in France.

(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

This preparation earned him a full scholarship for DACA recipients at a small liberal arts school. When she graduated in 2019, she became a college counselor at a rural high school through AmeriCorps.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Gonzalez grew disheartened as the students’ plans were derailed and as DACA continued to unravel. She started thinking about applying for graduate school. At the same time, her husband, who is a French citizen, had to leave the United States when his visa expired. They decided to go to Paris.

For his parents, the move was difficult to accept.

“I guess it was just assumed that they left their families and friends and everything in Mexico so we could have a life in the United States,” Gonzalez said. They didn’t expect her to do the same.

As they counted down to their July 2020 departure, Gonzalez looked for signs that she should stay. During a stopover in Texas, her husband, seeing her distraught, told her that they could always come back if she changed her mind. But she couldn’t think of a strong enough reason to turn back.

The first year away from his family was tough, Gonzalez said. There were days when she felt so depressed she couldn’t get out of bed. She also had difficulty adapting to French culture.

But Gonzalez never racked up illegal presence in the United States — which begins at age 18 — because she had DACA. She might be able to visit her family soon after receiving a French passport.

“There are two sides of the coin,” she said. “How much are you willing to sacrifice? And in the end, what matters most to you? I acquired this feeling of freedom. I no longer feel limited. There are days when it’s really painful not to kiss my mom, but I hope I get to the day when I can again, and it will be worth it. It’s a long-term investment in myself.