There’s no question that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has touched the lives of thousands of young people and, in turn, continues to inspire activism for immigration reform, transcending communities to inform federal action. At CLINIC, we are moved by the journeys of so many DREAMers. One such inspirational young woman is Denia Perez, the nation’s first Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) accredited DREAMer.
When Denia was just eleven months old, she and her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in search of employment opportunities and to reunite with family. Although her parents were open about their lack of status, Denia first became aware of the ramifications of their lack of status when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began conducting work place raids near her home. Although just a child, Denia understood that her parents were at risk for detention and deportation. “I learned that being undocumented meant living in a state of constant uncertainty,” Denia recalls.
While an undergraduate student, Denia received a scholarship for undocumented young people from Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC). Through the E4FC program, Denia not only offset the cost of her undergraduate education but was also, for the first time in her life, able to identify openly with other DREAMers. “After years of being ashamed and secretive about my immigration status, I was able to find a community where I felt supported and comfortable about who I was,” Denia explains. When E4FC opened a legal service program in 2010, she began to volunteer there.
Upon receiving DACA, Denia became the nation’s first Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) accredited DREAMer, with the support of CLINIC staff. “CLINIC’s Jack Holmgren has been an invaluable and crucial ally to E4FC throughout the BIA accreditation process,” Denia notes. Whether offering guidance on compiling the application for staff accreditation or prepping the team for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) interviews, Denia explains “E4FC would not have been able to go through this process without the direct support of CLINIC.”
A testament to Denia’s determination and the collaborative efforts of E4FC’s Legal Services, Denia attributes her experiences as having fueled hope for the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). Denia explains, “The DACA policy has motivated me to continue the work that I’m doing so that I can advocate for others and work for immigration reform for all 11 million undocumented young people in this country.” Now able to work and drive legally, Denia feels blessed by the privileges granted from DACA but recognizes that this form of relief is merely a “step in the right direction toward solving this nation’s immigration problem.”
“Immigration laws absolutely need to change in order to reflect the times and values that this country stands for,” Denia says. “The immigration laws in this country should be fair and should facilitate family reunification, opportunities for a better life, and reasonable wait times for those who have a petition pending.”
Explore CLINIC’s website for more on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program , CIR , BIA Recognition or Accreditation , or for a directory  of community-based organizations serving immigrants in your area.
*Tessa Winkler is Public Education Officer at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.