Immigration policy has been a point of disagreement throughout our country’s history. Laws have changed at different times to address specific societal issues of the day. In her continuing series, HPR contributing reporter Jackie Young examines some of those laws, and how they affect one immigrant in Hawaiʻi.
In 2012, President Obama allowed young adults who were brought here illegally to receive work permits and temporary status. It’s known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. They’re also called “dreamers”. Shingai Masiya, 32, is a beneficiary of that program. He currently works as a staffer for U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, but is speaking to us in an unofficial capacity.
Masiya came to the U.S. with his family from Zimbabwe when he was 13. He grew up in Dallas, and only found out about his lack of proper documentation when he was 16, while trying to apply for a driver’s license.
“I discovered I did not have a Social Security number, and that I was here undocumented.”
Masiya was shocked there was no path to citizenship for him. “So it was somewhat of a risk for dreamers to sign up for the DACA program at that time, because it’s basically outing yourself and giving your information to the federal government. But at that time it was a risk that I was willing to take, because even if I were able to feel like a normal kid or teenager or normal adult at that time, for two months, I felt as if it was worth it.”
What was Masiya’s life like before DACA?
“Life before DACA was very miserable. When I was 18 years old, I had student athletic scholarships to a couple of universities around the country, but all the universities that were recruiting me, eventually when the Social Security question came back up, told me no, I could not attend their institutions. This was heartbreaking for me, waking up every day and not having a plan, not knowing what you’re going to do with your life, was completely miserable.”
But Masiya still fears deportation. “I am concerned, obviously, because the current administration, President Trump, has told dreamers to ‘rest easy’, quote. Unfortunately, we can’t rest easy. Every month, there’s a story about a dreamer that does have DACA status, who’s been deported or who’s been threatened with deportation or who’s been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”
Yet state Rep. Gene Ward, who’s married to an immigrant, and whose adopted daughter is an immigrant, thinks we should not encourage rule-breakers.
“I think we’re misleading the immigrants to think that they can come here illegally, and then they can become legal. … But there are many, many, many immigrants who have said, ‘You know, I worked my backside off to get the money to come here, to get here, to go through the paperwork. They worked their way to become immigrants. We’re a nation of legal immigrants, we’re not a nation of illegal immigrants.”
Next week, we'll find out what actions some faith communities are taking in response to the new, stricter immigration policies.