CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (WPRI) — Otoniel Andres was 12 when his parents brought him to America illegally. The 28-year-old automotive worker and father of two has now lived in Rhode Island for more than half his life.
“I do feel like an American,” Andres said in an interview with Eyewitness News on Tuesday. “This is my life. To go back to Mexico … I would not know how to handle that.”
Andres is one of roughly 800,000 immigrants in the United States who have benefited from DACA, short for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that gave temporary protection from deportation for young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced it would end the program in March 2018, phasing out renewals and not accepting new applications.
In Rhode Island, more than 2,000 individuals have applied for DACA status since the program was created in 2012, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, which assists immigrants and refugees. Bishop Thomas Tobin joined many elected leaders Tuesday in criticizing Trump’s decision to end the program.
Andres said he renewed his DACA application months ago and just received the re-authorization for two more years in the mail on Tuesday. “It’s like you take two steps forward and one step back,” he said.
Andres said his wife, a Colombian immigrant, is also a DACA recipient. Their two children, ages nine and one, are American citizens. He isn’t sure where the family would go if one or both of the pair were deported.
“At this point, you just have to pray and hope for the best,” Andres said.
Congress has the option of taking legislative action to protect these immigrants, often called “Dreamers,” although congressional attempts have failed in the past. President Trump tweeted Tuesday night he would revisit the issue if Congress fails to act on immigration reform within six months.
Another Dreamer, Javier Juarez, said he arrived in Rhode Island 18 years ago at the age of 10, stepping off a Greyhound bus in downtown Providence.
After being unable to get a driver’s license, insurance or a decent-paying job for years, leaving him “depressed and paranoid,” Juarez said his life changed when the DACA program was implemented. He was able to go to college and get a good job, and has renewed his DACA status three times.
He won’t be able to renew a fourth time. “Now I have a time clock, basically, on my head,” he said.
But Juarez said he doesn’t regret coming out of the shadows and identifying himsef as an undocumented immigrant.
“I wanted to give my information,” he said. “I’m saddened that we have to do this today. I wasn’t expecting it.”