Voices from the Columbia Stands with Dreamers event: 'We would like to see a pathway to something permanent.'
“We’re part of the community,” Jimenez said. “We can be educators, nurses, we can work in government, we can do other things like that. We’re basically an unknown backbone to this country."Fernando Jimenez
When Ivonne Ramirez crossed the southern border between Mexico and the U.S. with her family at 8 years old, she didn’t know it was illegal.
“We came here as children, and we were told to come here,” she said. Ramirez is part of the immigration task force for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. “This is the only home that we know, and we want to stay here," she added.
Ramirez was among the several Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients who spoke about their experiences at the Columbia Stands with Dreamers event on Saturday.
The event took place outside the Boone County Courthouse with speakers including Columbia Mayor Barbara Buffaloe, businessman Randy Minchew and local faith leaders. Advocates called for Congress to pass the legislation that would protect “Dreamers” by creating a pathway to citizenship.
DACA recipients, who came to the US under the age of 16, are known as “Dreamers'' in reference to the bill Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act that intended to give them a pathway to citizenship. The bill, introduced in 2001, never became law. Since then, there have been several versions introduced, including two that are currently in Congress.
The two versions of the DREAM Act currently in Congress, the Dream Act of 2021 and the American Dream and Promise Act, would provide the opportunity for eligible immigrants a permanent legal status and eventually become eligible for U.S. citizenship.
“The bill, if it passes Congress, can change our lives, and hopefully we don’t live in fear like we are right now,” Ramirez said to the crowd outside the Boone County Courthouse Plaza in Columbia.
After Ramirez graduated from high school in 2012, the administration of former President Barack Obama created the DACA program. It protected her — and all undocumented immigrants brought to the country before the age of 16 — from deportation, enabling them to work and study legally in the U.S.
The program must be approved every two years by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services with a fee of around $495.
Juan Carlos Morales, a restaurant owner who catered the event, said the program opened doors for many immigrants including his wife. “It feels like freedom. It feels like a relief,” he said. “But yes we would like to see a pathway to something permanent.”
Having to renew the application every two years leaves DACA recipients in a constant state of uncertainty, "Dreamer" Belem Gomez Cruz said.
Gomez Cruz said in addition to DACA renewal fees, recipients incur in other expenses due to lack of citizenship. In Missouri, DACA recipients are prohibited from receiving in-state tuition and financial aid, regardless of living most of their lives in the state, she noted.
Jason Lief, from the National Immigration Forum, organized the event and said supporting immigration is a bipartisan issue.
“Republicans and Democrats both agree that we want this group of people in our country, in our communities,” he said.
DACA recipients, who are not allowed to vote, used the opportunity to encourage the Columbia community to vote in favor of lawmakers who support immigration.
The event also included Mexican food and live music. It became a moment of celebration for immigrants’ contributions to American society and an opportunity for DACA recipients to connect.
“It's a start for something maybe big in the future,” Zayra Saavedra, a “Dreamer” from St. Louis, said about the event.
For Fernando Jimenez, a DACA recipient who is now a teacher at Columbia Public Schools, it’s important to move past the negative connotations toward “Dreamers.”
“We’re part of the community,” Jimenez said. “We can be educators, nurses, we can work in government, we can do other things like that. We’re basically an unknown backbone to this country.”
Transcript of the full audio story, here.