The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, can represent many different things to people around the U.S. For Juan Navarro, it represents a means to follow and live out his dreams.
Navarro, a community activist and graduate student at OSU, talked about DACA’s importance in his life and in other “Dreamers’” lives across the country.
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Navarro was diagnosed with a form of cerebral palsy at an early age called hemiplegia, which is a condition that causes paralysis on one side of the body. Due to this, Navarro was unable to walk when he was younger. When his parents consulted doctors on options for treatment, they were told he may never learn to walk.
Desperate for solutions, Navarro’s parents did what many parents would do in that situation: they sought out any option they could to help their son. Thanks to a suggestion from family members who were citizens in the U.S., Navarro was admitted as a research patient at a Shriners hospital in the U.S. when he was three years old.
After 12 years of physical therapy and six surgeries, Navarro was able to walk without assistance for the first time when he was 15 years old. Navarro spoke about how it felt to accomplish something he had been told might be impossible.
“It was amazing because I often would get frustrated that I couldn’t walk, amazing because I could be normal again,” said Navarro.
“My emotions were happy tears because of the hard work that went into it, that I didn’t need the support like a wheel chair anymore, happy that I could workout without supervision.”
Navarro’s family decided to remain in the U.S., where Navarro had been doing well in school. In the second semester of his senior year in high school, pressure began mounting about where he was going to apply for college after he graduated.
Navarro admits that he began skipping class because he was fearful of what would happen due to his undocumented status. He was unable to find a job legally and he couldn’t physically work in a field. The mental anxiety became so intense that Navarro admits he even attempted to take his own life.
“When you’re a really strong student, you have potentially the world ahead of you because your grades are so high and then you’re told that you may not be able to use it, so all the work that you actually did, did not matter,” said Navarro.
“I can’t work one of the jobs I could get, and I can’t chase my dreams through an education. So it takes a tole on a 17-year-old kid’s mind.”
Navarro mentioned that the mental health many Dreamers have to endure is understated in the media’s coverage of the topic.
“The mental damage that occurs within a person who is undocumented is sometimes overlooked by the media presence of other issues,” said Navarro.
At the end of his senior year, he told a counselor at his school what was weighing on him. His counselor was emotional, feeling that they had not prepared Navarro enough for the situation he had been forced into. She suggested he continue to pursue his dreams and attend Chemeketa Community College.
At first, Navarro was only able to attend college part-time, because he was unable to work. In 2012, Navarro’s third year at Chemeketa, DACA was signed as an executive order and he was able to find work as an employee on campus at the Community College and finish out his associate degree.
Navarro went on to earn his bachelor’s at Western Oregon University and he is currently working on his master’s at OSU. His dream is to go into student services at a university when he ultimately decides to move on from college. However, with his work permit in danger of expiration right around the time he is set to finish his graduate program, he could be out of work after years of working on his degree.
“Here’s how I look at it: every two years I get DACA, it’s two years I get to live the American dream. It’s two years I have to make the most of,” said Navarro.
“That’s just the nature of it. That we may only be able to live the American dream for only two more years. But we have to make the most out of those two years.”
However, Navarro says he is not overly concerned about his own problem as there is a bigger picture affecting more than just himself.
“I’m more worried about my other Dreamers because their permits run out sooner than mine does,” said Navarro.
Congress has made no immediate action to come up with a solution for DACA, so the future of around 800,000 recipients is up in the air. As a result of the congressional delay, it’s estimated that about 122 recipients are losing their DACA protections each day even before Congress’ deadline to act on March 5. Navarro fears for what will follow the deadline if DACA is rescinded.
“It’s the most heartbreaking thing that every single day after March 5 another person loses their permit, another person loses their ability to work, another person loses their ability to pay for college, loses their great job, loses their home, loses their car, and they’re at risk of being deported,” said Navarro.
The LBCC Diversity Achievement Center’s Director of Institutional Equity & Student Engagement Javier Cervantes talked about the consequences on the U.S. economy that could potentially come from the removal of around 800,000 people from the workforce via a DACA rescission.
“We’re talking about billions of dollars, we’re not talking about some small amount of money. People want to believe that by eliminating these people from work or jobs, that many people don’t want to do, that Americans are going to want to immediately pick up and do these jobs. That’s not always the case,” said Cervantes.
“This decision flies in the face of any economic argument. You’re going to take away these young people, who are in the prime of their life, and their ability to go to work and be productive as we want everybody to be in the United States.”
It’s been a tough road for Navarro and Dreamers from around the country, but he refuses to give up. Navarro spoke about the American dream and how he defines American.
“Isn’t the American dream that anybody can have an opportunity to be something? If I tell you my story about the poor kid in Mexico who couldn’t walk, came to the United States and worked his way into graduate school, isn’t that the American dream?” said Navarro.
“Being able to defy all odds and still make it through. You can be the poorest of the poor but if you’re given a slight window of opportunity that opportunity will lead to success. That’s how I define American and by that definition all Dreamers are American.”
Even with the March 5 deadline looming, Navarro remains focused on the future. He and many Dreamers around the nation see the DREAM Act, a legislative proposal that provides undocumented minors with a direct pathway to citizenship, as a beacon of hope.
“The DREAM Act means the world to undocumented youth because it’s our shot to claim the permanent American dream,” said Navarro.
“I’m hopeful because people have seen us with DACA and made this issue hit home for folks and made people really think of this situation and a human rights issue. We are so close to achieving this, but it will require more support from allies.”