Life after DACA: A Dreamer says the program changed her life

Angelica Hernandez says her life has changed ever since she received a work permit and a social security number nearly two years ago through President…

Angelica Hernandez, a 25-year-old Dreamer who came to the U.S. from Mexico with her family when she was 9 years old, graduated with a master’s degree from Stanford University in June 2014. She recently spoke to VOXXI about how the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program changed her life. (Courtesy photo)

Angelica Hernandez says her life has changed ever since she received a work permit and a social security number nearly two years ago through President Barack Obama’s deferred action program for undocumented youth.

The 25-year-old Dreamer from Mexico City was headed off to Stanford University to pursue a master’s of science in atmosphere and energy when Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in June 2012. The federal program offers undocumented young immigrants, like Hernandez, relief from deportation as well as a two-year renewable work permit and a social security number.

Friday marks the two-year anniversary of when the federal government implemented DACA and began accepting applications for it.

SEE ALSO: One year after deferred action announcement, Dreamer lands ‘dream job’

Angelica Hernandez

Angelica Hernandez, right, hugs her mother, Martha Juarez, after graduating from Stanford University in June 2014. (Courtesy photo)

Hernandez said she was approved for DACA in November 2012. Soon after that, she began working as a teaching assistant at Stanford University and an intern for a solar energy company in California — two things she said she wouldn’t have been able to do if it weren’t for DACA.

Hernandez graduated from Stanford University in June 2014 and is now working as an engineer for Nexant, Inc., a company in Arizona that administers the energy efficiency programs of the state’s largest utility company.

“For me it was really a transformation, because it was a phase in my life that was long overdue and that I couldn’t take advantage of before,” Hernandez told VOXXI when asked how DACA impacted her life. “Now having DACA and being able to be employed, now I can say that I’m catching up.”

Hernandez explained that before DACA, she felt that she was falling behind because there were opportunities she couldn’t take advantage of. For example, she couldn’t get a job after she first graduated from Arizona State University with a mechanical engineering degree because she was undocumented.

But thanks to DACA, Hernandez was not only able to get a job using her two college degrees, but was also able to get a driver’s license when she was living in California and most recently a credit card.

How DACA is impacting lives

Hernandez’s experiences with DACA are similar to those of many of the thousands of undocumented young immigrants who were limited on what they could do before they were approved for the federal program.

A recent national survey found that 70 percent of the 1,302 DACA recipients who responded to the survey said they began their first job or transferred to a new job after getting their work permit. About half of respondents also said DACA enabled them to be more financially independent and gave them the ability to help their families financially.

DACA, dreamer

Gaby Perez, left, hands over her paperwork to get guidance from immigration attorney Jose Peñalosa, right, as she gets ready to apply for DACA on Aug. 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Moreover, 23 percent of respondents said they returned to school after being approved for DACA. And an estimated 20 percent said they bought their first car, while 37 percent said they got their first credit card.

SEE ALSO: Study seeks to show how DACA impacts the lives of Dreamers

To qualify for the deferred action program, applicants must be at least 15 years old and under the age of 31. They must also have been brought to the U.S. before turning 16 and lived in the U.S. continuously since June 15, 2007. Furthermore, applicants must be enrolled in school or have earned at least a high school diploma or its equivalent.

According to a recent study by the Migration Policy Institute, the federal government had accepted a total of 681,189 applications for DACA and granted approval to 587,366 individuals as of July 20 of this year. That means that about 55 percent of the 1.2 million youth who immediately met the program’s criteria have applied.

MPI researchers estimate that slightly more than 2.1 million undocumented young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children are potentially eligible for DACA. That includes about 473,000 undocumented young immigrants who will become eligible to apply for DACA once they turn 15 but only if they stay in school.

The federal government began accepting applications for renewal on June 5 of this year. According to the MPI study, nearly 25,000 undocumented young immigrants had submitted renewal applications as of July 20 of this year.

What’s ahead for DACA?

Research shows that for the most part, the DACA program has been successful because of the work done by immigrant youth groups, community organizations and legal and social service providers who guided Dreamers through the application process.

Own the Dream, a campaign led by United We Dream, is one of the groups that helped thousands of Dreamers apply for DACA. Members of the campaign and partners held more than 900 clinics and informational sessions across the country, serving more than 39,000 people.

SEE ALSO: White House honors DACA recipients as ‘Champions of Change’

Casa de Maryland

Fernando Miguel, right, with his father Rafael Miguel, left, get help filling out the application for DACA at Casa de Maryland in Langley Park, Md., on Aug. 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

However, there are still some barriers that are keeping some undocumented young immigrants from applying for DACA. Those barriers include not meeting the educational attainment requirements and not being able to afford the $465 application fee.

Moreover, some worry about the future of DACA given that House Republicans continue trying to get rid of the program. Just before leaving for the five-week August recess two weeks ago, the Republican-controlled House approved a bill to essentially end DACA and prohibit the Obama administration from expanding the federal program to benefit more undocumented immigrants.

Hernandez said she thinks it’s “outrageous” for Republicans to even consider voting to end DACA given the positive impact the program is having on the lives of thousands of Dreamers like her.

“It’s really unfortunate that they don’t really consider what kind of an impact DACA is really having,” she said. “It has allowed us to be able to become part of the professional workforce, pay taxes and help the economy.”

Hernandez added that as Obama considers taking executive action on immigration, she hopes the president will have the “courage” to expand DACA to benefit more undocumented immigrants. “I think he really needs to step up and offer at least an alternative or a solution to be able to help people like our parents who still fear deportation,” she said.

SEE ALSO: Deferred action seen as turning point in fight for immigration reform