DREAM ON

This Is the Human Cost of Congress Punting on a DREAMer Deal

Jaqueline Romo is one of thousands whose life will now be upended after lawmakers gave themselves a few more weeks.

Win McNamee

Congress is not moving fast enough for Jaqueline Romo.

Romo, a 21-year-old from Jalisco, Mexico, is a DREAMer, one of the hundreds of thousands of immigrant children brought to America illegally by her parents. She has protected status under DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But that status is in peril as lawmakers continue to bicker over whether to let the program expire or how to replace it.

Last month, there was a brief period of hope as Democrats and a scattering of Republicans refused to vote for a government funding deal that didn’t include a DACA resolution. After a few days, however, both parties agreed to open the government and give themselves until February 8 to find a solution.

It was hailed, by many on the Hill, as a chance to finally have substantive, bipartisan talks over a complex matter. For Romo and others, it was a gut punch. Her DACA status expires on February 4.

Romo said she sent in a renewal application last year, before the administration’s announced deadline. But her renewal hasn’t yet been sent back, meaning that her protections will likely lapse before lawmakers strike a deal—though the likelihood of them even striking a deal remains remote.

“We don’t see that Congress is coming together to do this,” Romo said in a phone interview last Wednesday before one of her classes. “That’s what’s scaring us because we don’t really know what’s going to happen.”

When President Donald Trump announced that he was ending DACA in September of last year he gave lawmakers a six month window to find a solution to replace the program. The decision left the impression that a clock was ticking on Congress to act. But that perception is only tells part of the story.

In between Trump’s decision to end the program and the March 5 deadline for it to be formally out of existence, prior DACA recipients are losing their status by the day. To add to the confusion, a federal judge issued a court order earlier this month allowing for renewals but the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said this would only be for people who had been previously approved. Romo is one of the thousands of so-called DREAMers enduring the fate of waiting. And every day that Congress fails to act, she’s joined by hundreds more.

“Many of us don’t really sleep because we know that things are changing dramatically for the people around us,” Romo told The Daily Beast. “We really don’t know what’s going to come next. It’s like coming back into the shadows—for me DACA was a way for me to liberate myself.”

Romo these days juggles an uncertain future with college classes and a work. She has an internship at Dominican University in the suburbs of Chicago, where she studies graphic design and a job at the Archdiocese of Chicago. Her employer wants her to demonstrate that she has her renewal paperwork in order to maintain her job as a receptionist. But, absent sudden intervention from Congress, it is becoming harder to find a solution on that front.

“I’ve done everything that I needed to do; whatever they asked me for,” Romo said. “I did it in a timely manner and I’m still waiting.”

Like any college student her age, Romo allows herself to imagine a more blissful life, in this case one where there is no legal uncertainty hanging over her head. She has plans for after graduation: a job in graphic design, work for a local firm or even, perhaps, starting her own business. If it all comes crashing down—should Congress simply fail to deliver—she will “have to carry on,” she said.

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Romo and her family came to the United States from a town in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, which hugs the Pacific Ocean on the western coast of the country.  Her mother fled out of fear of being engulfed in violence related to drug gangs. “She didn’t want us to live in a place like that,” Romo said.

For 19 of her 21 years, Romo has lived in the United States, mostly in Chicago. During that time, she studied, made friends, and worked to advance herself beyond her parent’s station in life. Her mother “didn’t have an education,” she explained. “She didn’t have opportunities to be someone educated or to have some kind of career in her life. She always wanted that from us. So I think that’s why she made the courageous decision to leave everything behind.”

On Tuesday, Romo, like the rest of the country, will try to discern what her future holds when President Trump delivers his State of the Union address. She has a class during part of the address but there’s a chance they will get to watch it. Either way, she’ll be playing close attention to what he says.

“We’re all kind of expecting him to speak on this,” Romo said. “Because not everything is set. We don’t know what side he’s leaning on. He’s said so much on very different sides of the line.”