(Editor's Note: This story originally aired Feb. 11, 2021)
“Dreamers” are undocumented young people looking for a path to citizenship.
They were brought to the United States as children, raised here, and are now trying to navigate their futures as adults.
The Trump administration attempted to end DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allowed some protection for Dreamers. The program stopped taking applicants for more than three years.
President Joe Biden has vowed to help Dreamers. One of his first actions in office was to issue an executive order to protect DACA. Nevada is home to approximately 12,000 Dreamers.
One of those Dreamers is Astrid Silva. She is the executive director of Dream Big Nevada.
She said during the Trump administration Dreamers and other immigrants lived in an atmosphere of fear.
“There was always the fear of what was going to happen," Silva said, "What tweet would come from the president that would change an immigration law or would change an immigration rule, and if it was going to affect us or it wasn’t going to affect us."
She said it is going to take a while for people to get out of that feeling of fear.
Silva said things for her have already changed under the new Biden administration. She is not feeling full relief, but she is sleeping a little better than she did.
And it's not just the president, but the people he has selected to look over the immigration system that has her encouraged.
“We come from four years of Stephen Miller [senior advisor to former President Trump] putting all kinds of terrible, xenophobic policies and now we’re going into a very different place,” she said.
Silva said the recent tweet from President Biden about Dreamers shows a change of tone that is refreshing.
“There are definitely a lot of things that are going to need to be done by this administration, but I think just in the sense of the community being a little bit less scared, it is definitely there,” she said.
Michael Kagan is the director of the Immigration Clinic at UNLV. He agreed that there was a lot of fear in the immigrant community during the Trump years.
Beyond that, there were changes made to the system that made it extremely difficult for everyone from immigrants to those trying to help them.
“I think those of us that watched the policy saw a level of cruelty that, at least, speaking for myself, that often surprised me, at least for the first couple of years,” he said.
Kagan said it is hard to say exactly how the policies impacted immigrants because each situation is different, but there were disturbing situations.
“You had people, long-standing residents, people who had lived here longer than me with no or very little criminal record being picked up and put into deportation,” he said.
It wasn't just undocumented workers that felt the impact. Kagan said immigrants who were trying to change their status meet with what was called the 'invisible wall.'
“It became impossible to use the immigration system legally,” he said, “The system could only say ‘no,’ detain people and deport people.”
Now, with Biden in the White House, Kagan has already seen changes.
“There’s a change. There’s a dramatic change,” he said.
Kagan can now see a chance for things to get better. Although there is a longer list of things that need to get done than there is a list of things that have been accomplished, he is more positive.
“The election of Joe Biden is an opportunity to repair this damage and to make sure that people in our community are more secure, but that work is not done yet,” he said.
Overall, Kagan would like to see a change in philosophy for the whole immigration system. He said right now there is a feeling that immigration is bad,
“As long as we’re in that mind frame, we’ll always end up being cruel to immigrants,” he said.
While there is that feeling from many lawmakers, Kagan doesn't believe most Americans feel that immigration is a bad thing.
“I think the biggest thing, at the core, I would like to see President Biden’s administration across all areas of immigration policy start from the idea that immigration is a good thing, and we want to make it safe and legal and orderly.”
Astrid Silva, executive director, Dream Big Nevada; Michael Kagan, Director, Immigration Clinic at UNLV
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