For Yonathan, the planned reversal of the United States’ Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program under President Donald Trump could mean a dramatic change to the life he has led for the past 20 years in North America.
“Before DACA, we were limited on what we can do on paper. We were unable to work. Getting our driver’s license was out of our options,” Yonathan told the Jakarta Globe via e-mail last week.
In 1996, Yonathan’s family moved to the United States when his father went to graduate school. Along with his mother and younger brother, the four of them ended up staying in the United States in pursuit of a better life and education for the children.
DACA gave Yonathan, who is now 28, a chance to build a life in the United States.
The program was created by former US President Barack Obama in 2012 and has protected around 800,000 young adult unauthorized immigrants – often called “Dreamers” – from deportation and allowed them to work legally in the country.
To apply for DACA, immigrants have to have arrived in the US before 2007, and have been 15 or younger when they arrived and younger than 31 when DACA was created in June 2012. Additionally, they must have nearly spotless criminal records and be enrolled in high school, or have a high school diploma or its equivalent.
Like many unauthorized immigrants like him, whose parents brought them to the United States from a young age, Yonathan was not aware of his status until his senior year of high school.
Both Yonathan and his younger brother, Daniel, promptly applied for DACA within the first few months of its release, and has renewed it a couple of times since – the protections last two years, after which immigrants can apply to renew them.
Once enrolled with DACA, Yonathan was finally able to obtain licenses and IDs, allowing him to drive a car and travel on planes, and acquire a “peace of mind to apply where we would like to work.”
Since Trump announced on Sept. 5 that his administration intends to wind down the program, DACA recipients have been facing the prospect of returning to lives they had left behind in a country they barely know.
“As of now, I have put aside my larger plans in life and live day by day,” Yonathan, who is currently studying for a degree in computer science, said.
DACA is expected to be fully phased out by March 2020.
When asked why he was worried by the prospect of having to return to Indonesia, he said the first thing that comes to his mind is the fact that he will have to “restart completely.”
“I’ll have to learn a language that I don’t use on a regular basis. There will be a complete culture shock if I was to return to my native country,” Yonathan said.
Following Trump’s announcement earlier this month, supporters of DACA have gathered in cities across the United States to protest his decision.
The future of the program remains unpredictable, even as Trump shifted his position last Wednesday (13/09) and agreed to work with US Congressional Democrats to protect DACA recipients from deportation, the Boston Globe reported.
Despite being moved by the rallying support for DACA recipients, Yonathan said he is skeptical of the “effect it would incite, given the current state congress is in,” alluding to the deeply divided nature of the US legislature.