By Rita Oceguera, Medill, Immigrant Connect

Juan* got his first speeding ticket in February 2018. For weeks he didn’t tell his parents, worried they would be disappointed in him. He told his mom the bad news only a few days before his court date, saying he was embarrassed about the incident. To his surprise, his mom didn’t make a big deal out of the ticket and said his dad gets them all the time.

“They [his parents] instilled in me that I always have to be careful,” said Juan. “I think that’s the only thing I’m afraid of, the law.”

Juan is a DACA student. This means that although he has permission to study, work and drive legally in the U.S., he is not a citizen. Encounters with the law are not just mistakes to learn from but moments that could jeopardize his ability to stay in the U.S.

Former President Barack Obama’s administration created DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in 2012. The program gives eligible immigrants who came to the U.S. when they were children temporary protection from deportation.

Protesters march in Los Angeles against President Trump’s decision to end DACA program. (Photo credit: Molly Adams/ Flickr)

Since Donald Trump took office, the policy which has helped around 800,000 young undocumented immigrants has been under constant threat. On Sept. 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced DACA would be terminated, throwing its recipients’ lives into uncertainty. Although on Jan. 9, 2018, a federal district court in the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction to keep DACA, the program’s future is still uncertain. The official website of the USCIS (the federal government agency responsible for administering the nation’s immigration system) informs people that although it “has resumed accepting requests to renew a grant of deferred action under DACA,” it is “not accepting requests from individuals who have never before been granted deferred action under DACA.”

“Even though I was born in Mexico, I’m from here. I can’t forget Mexico because I don’t remember it,” said Juan. “Not knowing a place and knowing that’s where I legally belong is confusing and frustrating, but day by day I don’t really see a difference from a friend who has all the privileges that I couldn’t have.”

Since becoming a DACA recipient in 2014, Juan obtained a social security number, work permit and driver’s license. With a social security number he can file taxes, apply for loans and open a bank account. With a work permit he can apply for jobs and pay for his education at Waubonsee Community College.

Having some sort of documentation to validate an immigrant’s stay in the country is extremely important. Undocumented people have to constantly worry about being deported and having the correct documentation is important in their encounters with the law.

In August 2017, Illinois passed the Trust Act, which aims to protect immigrants from arrests based on their status. Yet safety is never guaranteed. Despite the state trying to protect immigrants, they must comply with federal laws, some of which can be confusing.

One of those laws is the REAL ID Act of 2005, which was enacted as a response to national security threats and created “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.”

The REAL ID Act is voluntary for states to follow but a REAL ID compliant license or ID is required

Example of a REAL ID compliant state driver’s license for the state of Indiana. (Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles)

to access federal facilities, such as nuclear plants, military bases and commercial flights. Illinois at first fought against implementing REAL ID but now plans to roll out compliant identification in 2019.

This change in identification standards can be confusing for those who are undocumented and can create worry that their safety may be compromised. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is worried the act is creating a federal database, and issued a statement against the REAL ID Act in Jan. 2018, saying it could “facilitate the tracking of data on individuals and bring government into the very center of every citizen’s life.”

While the intrusion of privacy is worrisome, there is no evidence that is occurring or will occur. The Department of Homeland Security clearly states that REAL ID is not a national identification card and does not create a federal database. Furthermore, Dave Druker, spokesman for the Office of the Illinois Secretary of State, stated that having deferred action status makes DACA recipients eligible for REAL ID.

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a research organization which claims to have a pro-immigrant, low-immigration vision, explains why there is confusion over whether DACA recipients are eligible for REAL ID. CIS concludes that because the Act was created in 2005, before DACA was created, it is not clear in their legislative language that DACA recipients qualify. The Act states that only those with “lawful status” can get REAL IDs and technically, DACA recipients do not have “lawful status.”

Yet, DACA recipients are “lawfully present” in the U.S. and the law states REAL IDs can be issued to those who are “legally present.” Therefore, another interpretation is that DACA recipients can receive REAL IDs.

Obtaining some sort of legal documentation is important for immigrants in the U.S. While DACA doesn’t provide a path to citizenship, it does allow people like Juan to obtain privileges that U.S. citizens have. Juan explains that there may be more time consuming steps to reach the same objectives as his peers but that DACA allows him to continue living in the U.S. and strive for a better future, and legal identification is another form of validation.

“I treat it as though I’m 95 percent of a citizen as any other citizen would be,” said Juan.


*Juan’s full name is not being used. The precaution is being taken to protect him from retaliation by immigration authorities.