Denise Fedorow
Freelance Writer
March 21, 2018 // Parish

Goshen ‘Dreamer’ wants to stay out of the shadows

Denise Fedorow
Freelance Writer

Tears start to well up unbidden in the eyes of St. John the Evangelist parishioner Ana Bautista as she talks about what it’s like to be a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient, or “Dreamer,” in the current uncertain political climate.

A gentle person with an engaging smile and strong faith, Bautista, who is the religious education coordinator at the Goshen parish, said she prays that the DACA program will continue. 

Bautista explained that her father and older brother immigrated to the U.S. first, in 1999. Two years later her mother and other brother came, and two years after that, in 2003, Ana and her three sisters were united with their parents and brothers here in Indiana.

Bautista said in order to qualify for DACA status, an applicant has to have been brought to the country before he or she was 16 years old, lived here for five consecutive years, attended school or have a high school diploma, and currently be between 16-35 years old. There is a $495 application fee, and applicants must undergo a background check.

At St. John the Evangelist Parish, Goshen, Religious Education Coordinator Ana Bautista works in her office. She prays daily that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will continue so that she can live and work without fear of deportation. Bautista joined her family in Indiana when she was 14 years old, making her eligible for the program; but she has to reapply every two years. — Denise Fedorow

The same process must be repeated every two years; paying $495 and undergoing a background check. If anything comes up in the background check, the DACA status is revoked and the person is deported. Bautista said she knew someone charged with driving under the Influence and that was what happened to him. So those with DACA status have to remain in good standing in the community, she pointed out.

Bautista is under the impression that DACA was also supposed to be a path to citizenship, but she doesn’t think there is any clear plan for that.

“Before DACA I felt like a nobody,” Bautista said, and it’s at this point the emotion shows. “After DACA, I got out of the shadows. We were crying because I thought, ‘I can help my family now.’ We (DACA recipients) can get our driver’s licenses.”

She said there are a lot of misconceptions among the general public about what DACA status means.

“Most people think if we have DACA, we can get welfare — that’s not true,” she said.

What it does allow is for recipients to get a work permit and a Social Security card, so that they can then obtain a valid driver’s license.

“And in the corner of the license it says ‘temporary,’” she noted.

Getting DACA status and a work permit allows many young immigrants to get a better job. In Bautista’s case, she’s working for her parish.

“Father Tino gave me a chance,” she said. Father Constantino Rocha was a previous parochial vicar at the parish.

She began working as the Hispanic Ministry secretary, and volunteered as a catechist for the Spanish-language religious education classes. She also worked part-time as the preschool teacher’s assistant. Now she’s the religious education coordinator. A cousin of Bautista’s went to college and got a psychology degree, but couldn’t work in her field until she got her DACA status.

A common question she hears from the public is, “You’ve been here 10 years; why haven’t you gotten your citizenship?”

“They don’t realize that it can take five to 10 years or more to get through the process,” she said.

Bautista’s mother has been working on obtaining a visa for 10 years. While some of her relatives have become citizens, it may take another five years for her mother’s citizenship to go through because of a backlog in the U.S. Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Sometimes, during the process, people are sent back to Mexico and can’t return legally for 10 years.

“I’ve been here 16 years — more than half of my life,” Bautista said.

But in many ways, Bautista said she feels like she doesn’t really belong in either place — like a girl without a country. She said when she first obtained her DACA status she had the opportunity to go back to her birthplace to do some social work, during which she came to a defining realization.

“I was excited at first, but after two weeks I was ready to come home — what I feel is my home,” she said.

Bautista is the only one of her immediate family members who qualified for DACA, because of the age requirement. But she has cousins and friends who are DACA recipients, too. She said obtaining DACA status meant, “Happiness. I was out of the shadows.”

Now, under the present administration, life is uncertain.

“It’s real scary. Imagine not knowing what’s going on. Today you have DACA, tomorrow you don’t anymore, and you’ll be going back into the shadows again,” she said.

For Bautista, 2019 is when she is scheduled to reapply for another two years — if the program still exists by that time. It’s not only frightening for the “Dreamers” but everyone around them. 

“All my nieces and nephews were born here, and they see things on the news and get scared and ask, ‘Is that going to happen to you, Mom and Dad?’”

She has also noticed an air of increasing anger and mistrust toward her and others in the Hispanic community. There’s always been some, she said, but it has worsened because of statements made about those of Mexican descent. 

“I see the look in people’s eyes sometimes when I say I was born in Mexico or that I’m DACA,” she said.

Her mother advised her not to say anything when people make negative comments that upset her, but it’s hard to hear some things, Bautista said.

“There are bad people everywhere, but there are more good than bad. There are a lot of people doing good stuff for this country. We are a nation of immigrants — hard-working people,” she reiterated.

Bautista said her cost to renew is actually closer to $900 every two years, because she hires a lawyer to help her so she has a better chance of getting approved. She said it typically takes two to three months to get the acceptance.

“First we get a letter stating they received our paperwork,” she said. “Then we get a work permit.”

Just applying for DACA status puts applicants like Bautista at risk for deportation, should the application be denied. She wishes people understood all the steps one has to take when they say, “Come here legally.”

“They don’t understand how hard it is,” she said. “It’s not easy for us to be here and go through all that. We just want to be good neighbors.”

“I just keep praying that if there’s not a path to citizenship, that at least we keep DACA,” she said.

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