Each day since September 5, 2017, 122 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients have lost their status. In his decision to end DACA, President Trump had no clear plan for the nearly 800,000 people enrolled in the program, of which 36,000 identify as LGBTQ.
On Sunday, the president tweeted that Senator Dick Durbin “blew” a DACA deal due to his unabashed denouncement of Trump’s “shithole” comments. The next few days may very well determine the fate of 36,000 LGBTQ identified DACA recipients and other undocumented young people. As with most things this president does, everything is speculative until it isn’t.
In the following series, I sought to find how being undocumented adds a layer of complexity and difficulty to people’s lives. The stories told reflect a small piece of the lives of those profiled; however, they remind us that the debate raging in Congress this week has real and lasting consequences.
Tony Choi, a 29-year-old DACA recipient living in New York, has been in a relationship for two years now, which is something he didn’t think always think possible. Five years ago, before he had DACA, he stated he would not have been able to maintain a relationship for this long.
“I wasn’t in the right mindset,” he shared. “Back then, I couldn’t afford a smartphone, so it wasn’t like I could get on apps, so, how do I meet people?”
“Where do I meet people? For what reason would they want to see someone like me?” he continued.
Tony, who currently works as a Social Media Manager for 18millionrising.org, originally came to the U.S. from Seoul, South Korea in 1998. And for him, DACA provided a sense of permanency he hadn’t felt since becoming undocumented around the age of 13, after years of his family trying to adjust their status from their original tourist visa.
One of Tony’s first purchases upon being granted DACA was a snow shovel. “Growing up, when it snowed a lot, I would have to clean out the driveway using pots and pans,” he shared. He and his family never knew if they’d be in the country for the next five months, or even the next five weeks. It’s no wonder dating gave him pause. DACA, on the other hand, gave him a sense he was here to stay.
“I think one of the many blessings of DACA is a sense of permanency in America,” Tony said. Along with that snow shovel, came the sense that the life he had wanted for so long, was closer for him than ever before. Being undocumented, however, continued to pose challenges as he started dating his partner.
Choi found himself constantly having to consider how many dates before he told the other person he was undocumented? Or, that because of his work as an immigrants’ rights activist, he might be found on a Time Magazine cover? These were all things Tony had considered as roadblocks to dating while being undocumented, thus he thought love was not going to happen for him especially in the U.S.
These past obsessions over when to ‘come out,’ per se, have stopped as, to his surprise, he has finally found love. But in the wake of this joy has come more things to be anxious about.
Tony’s current partner shared with his parents that Tony was an immigrants’ rights activist, because he was incredibly proud: “He thought it was really cool that I was this activist person. It was the first thing he told his parents about me.”
But Tony believes being undocumented added a layer of difficulty to the relationship between him and his partner’s parents causing him to feel a bit of suspicion from his partner’s parents.
“I’m not trying to green-card-fraud my way into a relationship. I’m genuinely interested in this person; I really want to date him,” he said.
Over the next month, as Congress continues to grapple with how to handle DACA recipients, like Tony, he reflects on what the potential passage of the DREAM Act would mean to him.
“It would resolve and tie up the past 20 years of my life,” he said. “It’s something I’m really looking forward to.”
While DACA initially provided him some resemblance of permanency, President Trump took that away by rescinding the program. And as advocates continue to fight for a solution, only time will tell what that permanency will turn into for Tony and people like him.