By Peter White
NASHVILLE, TN — In February Congress failed to give legal status to immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children.
Martin Batalla Vidal, 27, is one of them. He was 8 and his brother was 6 when they joined their parents and began a new life in the U.S. Later, twins were born and they are U.S. citizens. The family lives in Queens.
There are about 800,000 Dreamers like Batalla Vidal. Some of them are still in school. Some have already graduated, gone to work, and started families. If President Trump has his way, they will be rounded up and deported along with their siblings, children, parents and ten million other undocumented immigrants.
“It shouldn’t take someone who has been in this country 5, 10, 20 years to normalize their legal status. So, we have a broken system in Washington and that needs to be fixed,” said Kevin De Leon, California State Senator from Los Angeles.
Immigration authorities detain about 400,000 people per year and the U.S. operates the largest immigration detention system in the world.
“The Trump administration has declared war on refugees and immigrants. They are determined to kick out people who are here either with no status or with an uncertain status,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, an immigrant rights watchdog group in Washington.
President Trump announced in September 2017 he was terminating the DACA program. A number of lawsuits were quickly filed on behalf of the Dreamers. Batalla Vidal is the lead plaintiff in a New York case that has forced the government to issue DACA renewals.
Immigration activists say “La Migra” doesn’t make that particularly easy, sometimes DACA is revoked without due process, and it costs $495 in fees. The climate has changed for Dreamers from willing assistance to begrudging acceptance.
“We are living in limbo,” said Batalla Vidal.
He works 30 hours a week at a rehab center for stroke patients and people with traumatic brain injuries. He makes $1500 a month. He attends La Guardia Community College studying criminal justice and political science. He wants to go to law school some day.
“DACA gave me the opportunity to do so many things, you know, like getting an education, get a scholarship, “ Batalla Vidal said. His parents were afraid for him when he decided to fight for a better life for himself and all the Dreamers.
“It’s overwhelming not knowing but at the same time we’re fighting. We got the injunction and we’re taking things one step at a time,” he said.
“We’re hoping that the litigation buys us enough time. We’re hoping the political process yields a new Congress. We’re hoping the Dreamers are not faced with the horrible decision of having to decide whether to stay in this country without papers or to leave this country, “ Sharry said.
ICE conducted four days of raids in Northern California last week. They made hundreds of arrests.
“If this was about MS-13 gang members, then they haven’t captured them,” said De Leon. “They are taking mothers and fathers. They’re taking Dreamers away and we aren’t going to stand for it,” De Leon said.
Hector Salvidar is organizing resistance to ICE raids in Southern California. Last year, his mother returned to Mexico for an immigration appointment to legalize her status but was not allowed back in the country because she brought her children to the U.S. years earlier.
Salvidar said fighting for his mother’s return has been expensive and emotionally draining. “She is the backbone of our family. She is what kept us together,” he said.
Salvidar created a rapid response network in Los Angeles. Tipped off that ICE was going to raid a number of 7-11 stores, he dispatched groups of people to show up and support the workers inside. ICE agents demanded the managers show them their employees’ work permits in what is called an I-9 audit.
Even when they don’t arrest anyone, ICE agents get names, addresses, and other information immigrants are afraid ICE will use against them later.
“This is a crucial time to give support and defend your fellow brothers and sisters and to stop them from separating our families,“ said Salvidar.
California is spending $45 million to provide free legal services to its immigrants and 100 non-profits around the state provide them. A number of websites provide help to immigrants decide how best to deal with normalizing their immigration status.
One is Ready California. It’s website address is https://ready-california.org/legal-service-directory/. Another is https://www.informedimmigrant.com Another is https://www.immi.org