Written by Kathy Zepeda-Arreola
“Oh you got your papers now?” This phrase might seem familiar to newly “DACA-mented” youth who have received a worker authorization and social security number. However, the phrase “papers” and the actual benefits from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) legislation are far from similar. “Papers” generally implies legal residency via permanent residency status or a “green card”. While permanent residency allows immigrants to work, it also provides a path to citizenship and eligibility for other benefits like government benefits and federally funded jobs. This is not the case for people with DACA and work authorization approvals.
“DACA-mented” individuals and people in general should know the difference between Permanency Residency and DACA status respectively. DACA has also been referred to as the Dream Act in social media sites and through word of mouth. “Hey have you applied for the Dream Act?” As these terms are used interchangeably, they convey misinformation but also misconceptions about the benefits of each, mainly a false sense of opportunity and protection under this new legislation.
People with work authorizations and DACA approvals are quickly realizing how limited they really are. For one, the second document that these individuals receive is the social security card, but this is far different than a “regular”, plain social security card. “VALID FOR WORK ONLY WITH DHS AUTHORIZATION” are printed in the top half of the card. For many people, having a social security card represents more than the ability to work and have a 9-digit number to fill in certain forms or documentation. It represented being included, recognized, and removing the stigma from what it meant to be undocumented, it meant being documented in all its essence. However that social security number card came with big capital letters that in other words say: YOU ARE NOT PART OF US!
People working under DACA are ineligible to apply to programs like Teach for America, Cal Corps programs and other prestigious fellowships and positions. Therefore, people are still restricted from positions that would supplement their educational and or professional experience. They are also restricted from positions where they are overqualified candidates. This is not only limiting DACA-mented individuals but also the organizations that offer these positions and could benefit from applicants who would maintain and contribute to their legacies in their respective fields. How do you explain to someone, that you have a social security number but are still ineligible to apply certain positions and opportunities?
Providing a social security number to apply for other things associated with DACA require further paperwork to justify presence in the United States. In California, people with DACA and work authorization approvals are eligible for drivers licenses, yet in other states such as North Carolina DACA-mented folks will get a marked drivers license. When submitting the application form, they have to provide other forms to verify their social security number. More than likely the DMV employee will ask, “Are you applying through your work permit? Please provide me with your work authorization card.” No matter how polite they are, they know the difference in circumstance of DACA-mented folks and the other people in line.
Thus, when referring to DACA eligibility, it is a lie to refer to it as “obtaining papers” or the Dream Act, because it is different and exclusionary. It still places eligible people in the in-between category (i.e. accepted or not, segregated or integrated) and makes them subject to further scrutiny and stigma. It is another reminder of the limitations that come with this temporary and controversial status. For people who have been in this country for the majority of their lives, it is another battle to fight.
*photo credit goes to creator