Spotlight on citizenship process after DACA announcement

Updated: Sep. 7, 2017 at 7:40 PM EDT
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Eunice Gutierrez works three jobs as she studies to be a critical care nurse. (Source: WAVE 3...
Eunice Gutierrez works three jobs as she studies to be a critical care nurse. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - While the decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) remains in the spotlight, questions about the citizenship process have surfaced.

"Why don't they just become legal citizens?" is a question that appears often on the comments section on multiple DACA related stories.

According to immigration attorney Rachel Mendoza-Newton, there is no path to citizenship for DACA immigr ants.

"There is absolutely no path, even with a petitioner who wants to petition for you. For most people there is no way for them to gain legal status," Mendoza-Newton said.

The DACA program, created by an executive order by President Obama, was never meant to be permanent. Instead it was designed as a way for children of illegal immigr ants to work and go to school in the United States without fear of deportation.

DACA recipients must renew their application to the program every two years. On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the program would wind down and Congress would be given six months to act on a new plan for immigration reform.

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"The D-A in DACA, deferred action. It simply says, we could deport you, but we're not going to," Mendoza-Newton said.

And gaining legal status is rarely an option for a DACA immigr ant.

"Citizenship is off the table. They haven't even gotten legal status. Citizenship is much farther down the road, even if you can get legal status. And for a lot of these people, they cant," Mendoza-Newton explained.

Many, like DACA immigr ant Eunice Gutierrez, are hoping the decision to end the program will spur Congress into action to make a more permanent solution for children of illegal immigr ants.

Gutierrez left Mexico when she was seven years old to come to the United States.

"Whenever I think back about my memory at 7-years-old, I don't remember it that much," Gutierrez said.

At 22-years-old, she works three jobs, including as a photographer, working toward her goal of becoming a critical care nurse. Working DACA immigrants pay federal, state and local taxes and pay into social security, though very few would be collecting social security or medicaid benefits at their age. The average DACA immigrant is in his/her 20s.

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"This is the American Dream and we just want to continue to have that opportunity," Gutierrez said. "This is an amazing country that we so dearly love and I'm so proud to say I do consider myself an American and this my home."

A bill called the Dream Act that was introduced in 2001 would work toward helping children of illegal immigr ants gain residency in the United States and ultimately citizenship. The future of the bill is unclear at this point.

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