In 2001, the DREAM Act was introduced in Congress. If passed into law, the DREAM Act would grant legal status to undocumented children who were brought to and educated in the United States.
Sixteen years later, the act has never been passed. DREAMers, the young men and women who would be affected by the law, received some help in 2012 when the Obama administration enacted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy—but in September, the Trump administration announced it was repealing the program. (See “A Nightmare for Dreamers,” Oct. 19, at CVIndependent.com.)
As a result, Hugo Chavez, of Desert Hot Springs, fears for his future.
Chavez is well-known in the Coachella Valley music community. He’s the drummer for local band Sleeping Habits (formerly The BrosQuitos), and is one of the many DREAMers across the country who hope to become a legal resident or citizen someday.
“I was brought here from Mexico when I was less than a year old,” Chavez said during a recent interview. “It’s something that has always affected my life in some way or another. It’s hard to explain, because when you’re not in that situation, you are very unaware of how it really is. You have what you want, but you can’t really do anything.
“(DACA) helped out a lot. As a musician, the fear of crossing somewhere or playing somewhere like San Diego—it wasn’t a possibility. You can’t go somewhere like San Diego over the fear of being deported, and (DACA) took that fear away. … It’s like being trapped in a golden cage: You’re where you want to be, but you can’t really do anything.”
Chavez said he lives in Desert Hot Springs for a reason.
“I’ve stayed here in Desert Hot Springs my whole life, because it’s more of a safe haven than anything else,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about Border Patrol coming through here, especially for our families. … It’s a safe haven for them, and they don’t have to worry so much about hiding or going to the local grocery store.”
Chavez said he really started to understand the gravity of his situation when he was in high school.
“You see your friends when they turn 16 going to get their licenses and doing the typical American teenager stuff, and you’re always questioning, ‘Why am I not doing that?’ or, ‘Why can’t I do that?’” he said. “Then it all hits you that you can’t get a license or even an ID card because of your status. It sucks, because I had opportunities to take trips with the marching band or do other extracurricular activities that I couldn’t do.”
Chavez’s parents—like the parents of many DREAMers—came to the United States in search of the American dream.
“It’s the same story that anyone would tell you: It’s the pursuit of a better life,” he said. “When you’re living in Mexico, some people work all week to make 100 pesos, and that’s not even $10 in the United States. They can’t survive, making so little money. Parents want their kids to go to college; they want something bigger for them, or at least some opportunity for their children to pursue a dream. That’s why my mom and dad have to do what they do.”
When we discussed the arguments people opposed to the DREAM Act often make, Chavez said the opponents oversimplify things.
People like to say, ‘If you don’t like your country, you should fix it.’ But it’s not that easy,” he said. “People can vote and start as many petitions as they can in this country, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to change anything. It’s the same thing there. People can speak out, but when you have a government that controls the people as well as they do there, there’s not much you can say or do without fear of repercussions.”
Chavez’s family has been trying to get legal status for several years.
“It’s something people are really misguided about. A lot of people just say, ‘Go get your citizenship!’ It’s not like I can walk into an office and pay to get my citizenship. It doesn’t work like that,” he said. “My family has been in the process of getting our citizenship and visas for over 10-plus years. We’ve supposedly been approved, but there’s no actual date to go and do our fingerprints or anything like that. … It’s not simple at all, and you have to go through so many background checks, and they check your health, your status, where you work, and everything before you’re approved. It’s not something that takes 10 minutes, like it’s in and out at the DMV. … If it were so easy, this wouldn’t be such a big deal.”
Despite his legal status, Chavez said he wants to pursue as many of his dreams as he can.
“Now that I have (DACA), it allowed me to get my license, get my ID, and get everything that I needed in order to make that next step into getting citizenship,” he said. “The fear of going somewhere is not there anymore. I can freely go to the courthouse or go somewhere to pay a fee knowing that I’m going to make it home that same night. It’s a liberating feeling.
“Having the option to go to college and do anything that I want to do is something I don’t take for granted. Some people live in this country and have all these opportunities by birthright, and then they blame society for all the things they haven’t done. I’d rather fight for what I got and work my way up.”
I asked Chavez what the repeal of DACA, without a replacement by Congress, would mean for him.
“The basic fear is the fear of having to go back into hiding—the fear of not being accepted in general,” he said. “I have nothing different than my fellow band members or my friends in college; I’m just the same as a person as they are. The fear of having to dwell back and not be able to do the things I do now—it’d be a step in the wrong direction, especially for people like me who have so much to offer, and so much to do, and (our legal status) is the only thing holding us back.”