Today is the last day immigrants with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protection can renew their two-year work permits. Next spring, Congress will decide the fate of the program, an Obama legacy that provided temporary deportation relief for 32,900 New Yorkers as of last month. But less than a quarter of those New Yorkers (7,600 of them) qualify for today's deadline, which President Donald Trump set last month, putting the program on the chopping block. Anyone whose permit is set to expire after March 5, 2018 has no assurances beyond that date.
This week we talked to Hugo, a 29-year-old single father from Brooklyn and member of Make the Road New York, who moved to the United States from Mexico when he was eight years old. He now manages a pizza shop to support his eight-year-old daughter. His DACA status is set to expire next March 9th, four days after the the deadline.
How did it feel to learn you wouldn't be qualifying for a renewal?
It was very shocking when I heard that. Because I'm like, 'Wow, four days [too late]?'
What was it like to work in New York City before DACA?
There were times I had to work under the table, but I've always worked so that was never an issue. The thing is with DACA I was able to get a social security number. Being able to have an actual social security number made my life much easier because I was able to get my driver's license here in New York. I was able to pay my taxes with my name. Obviously I want to make sure that the money that I'm making I'm also contributing it and it's going forward to my future. To me those are the main benefits.
Once I got a work permit, I sort of [hatched] plans of going back to school and studying business and management. I run a pizzeria. I'm the general manager at that pizzeria. So I want to get a little bit more into it and get a little bit more knowledge to run the place better.
How would losing DACA impact your current job?
I'm thankful that my employers are very understanding of my situation. I've had DACA for four years and I started working there five years ago. So I wanted to be sure that nothing ever came back and got them in trouble just because they were helping me. It was good for them to have an employee that has all of his paperwork straight. That was my main concern.
[My boss] obviously heard the DACA news the same day as me. We spoke the same day. And that was one of the things he was telling me right away: not be concerned or worried, just to focus on the job ahead.
You support a family also.
I have my own apartment with my daughter. That's pretty much my family. But I still support my parents on a weekly basis.
Do you think two more years of DACA would make a big difference with the whole program in flux?
I've been living in this country for 20 years. Honestly, me not being able to renew my permit is not really going to stop me from continuing my life and also continuing the fight to get something better down the road. I have friends who were brought here when they were three or two years old. All they have is this.
With ICE making more arrests across the country, are you nervous about losing that deportation protection?
We gave [the government] all of our personal information. They know where we live, they know our names, they know where we work. So it is obviously something to be concerned about. But as long as we... continue being really good citizens, and never get into trouble or go to jail or have any of that stuff, we should be okay. And that's what we have to do: just keep behaving and doing what we are doing and show everybody who might not think [we are] worth it: just show them that we are better people than you think.
Some people might just think we're in gangs. They don't know who we really are, they just know what they see in the news. It's very important for people to at least read or hear somebody's personal story and the things we've been going through. Because nothing has ever been given to us: not a job, not anything, not school. For anything we own or have done, we've been fighting for. It's not like we are asking for permanent residency because we want to go on vacation to Mexico. We are doing this because we want to have better jobs. A lot of companies aren't taking my friends because they don't have a social security number. We're just trying to be part of this nation.
Do you talk to your daughter about these issues?
Honestly she's very smart. I've definitely already talked to her about this to make sure she's aware. I was eight years old when I came here, the same age as she is now.
I want to make sure that she doesn't feel nervous or scared or that "my daddy isn't going to be here with me" because she heard from a little friend that Donald Trump is going to kick everybody from Mexico out of this country.
This interview has been edited and condensed.