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A decade of DACA: Immigrants continue to fight for citizenship as future of program remains uncertain

“We have nurses, we have doctors, we have teachers, lawyers. Imagine what we can do with a full citizenship," said DACA recipient Wendy Ramos.

HOUSTON — Ten years after DACA began as a path to citizenship for children of immigrants brought here illegally, it's future remains uncertain amid legal challenges. 

And for many "Dreamers" who hoped to someday become American citizens, the long wait continues. 

“We’re going to continue to fight,” Cesar Espinosa, Executive Director of FIEL Houston, said Wednesday on the 10th anniversary of DACA. 

The immigrants' rights group organized a press conference which allowed DACA recipients and their political allies to share their perspectives. 

Among those waiting for an opportunity at citizenship is Sharon Ibarra-Aguillon. 

“I came here to the United States when I was 14 years old,” said the wife and mother who graduated from Prairie View A&M with honors while earning degrees in biology and nursing. 

Ibarra-Aguillon said she worked as a maid cleaning houses until her DACA status allowed her to legally work as a nurse. 

“I work in one of the best hospitals in the world, in the Medical Center. I would have never thought that dream would be accomplished. But here I am, an example.”

“Look at what we have done with the slight opportunity that we have been given,” said DACA recipient Wendy Ramos. “We have nurses, we have doctors, we have teachers, lawyers. Imagine what we can do with a full citizenship.” 

Ramos, a teacher in Aldine, said she was illegally brought to the U.S. when she was just 7 years old. Ramos said she was unaware of her immigration status until she graduated high school and began looking for full-time work.

On June 15, 2012 President Barack Obama signed DACA into law after years of contentious debate about immigration reform among lawmakers. Under DACA, people who were younger than 16 years old when they illegally entered the U.S. before 2007 are allowed to apply for the temporary status. 

A series of rules requires them to have the equivalent of a high school diploma or a be military veteran and they must be free of criminal convictions. The temporary immigration status must be renewed and currently does not lead to citizenship.

President Donald Trump targeted DACA during his four years in the White House. Last summer a federal court in Texas ruled the DACA policy unlawful. Current recipients are able to keep their status as that ruling prepares to go before a federal appeals court next month.

“Let these people continue to make our country the best place in the world to live,” said Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

“This anniversary, a decade anniversary of DACA, means that our country has been unable, unwilling to fix a simple problem,” said Gene Wu, a Democrat who represents part of Houston in the Texas Legislature. “They are ready to be full-on Americans. It is time we gave them that opportunity.”

“I just want to say to those kids that are listening and that are seeing this, don’t give up on your dreams. There’s always a way. There will always be a way.”

“And those that are opposed to DACA, get to know us,” urged Ibarra-Aguillon. 

People like Espinosa are working to make the connection. He’s using his DACA status to fight for immigrant rights through Fiel. 

“We define our status,” said Espinosa, “our status does not define us.”

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