EASLEY — To many South Carolinians, a “dreamer” is nothing more than someone who lives in a world of fancy and imagination — Merriam-Webster would agree with them. But for roughly 6,400 people in the state, a dreamer’s life is one of struggle, uncertainty and (hopefully) perseverance.
Just ask Sarai Bautista.
“I went to Gettys Middle School, Easley High School class of 2009 — and I am a DACA recipient,” Bautista told the Pickens County Delegation on Monday.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was a program that allowed people who entered the country as undocumented minors to apply for a renewable two-year period of “deferred action” from deportation.
It allowed nearly a million undocumented young people to attend college, obtain work permits and get a drivers license.
When the policy was rescinded by the Trump administration on Sept. 5, 2017, the recipients suddenly found themselves facing an uncertain future.
“People have a lot to say about me regardless of whether they know me or not, so this is what I have to say for myself,” Bautista said. “I have had at least one job since I was 17 and have been paying into Social Security and health care even though I am not eligible to apply for these benefits.
“I have volunteered at the Easley Hospital and Foothills Retirement Home and continue to help whenever and wherever I can.
“When DACA was announced, I applied and paid the $500 fee to qualify. I had a background check and I gave up my entire life in paper — including all of my school records. Homeland Security has my tax returns, bank statements and most of my school records from the time I arrived here until the time I got DACA. They even have my baptism certificate.
“I had to prove that I am not a national security threat and that I behave like an upstanding citizen with a good moral character.”
Bautista, who came to the U.S. from Puebla, Mexico with her family when she was 11-years-old, said she had renewed her DACA application three times, each time paying the $500 fee.
“I have been in college since the Summer of 2014 and I still don’t have an Associate’s Degree,” she said explaining how despite graduating with honors from EHS, she is ineligible for federal financial aid and can only afford a few classes at a time.
She also must pay out of state tuition.
Bautista was a year into a radiology program before she learned she would be denied a state license. Instead of quitting, she changed her major and started over.
As more DACA recipients come forward to tell their stories, there is a corresponding increase in awareness and political controversy over the need for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
The bi-partisan bill was originally introduced in the Senate in August of 2001 by Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Although it has been reintroduced several times, it has never passed — something some S.C. legislatures would like to see changed.
“The courage of Sarai, the 30 Dreamers who testified in front of the Children’s Committee, and the other Dreamers who have come out of the shadows are inspiring,” wrote Rep. Neal Collins on his Facebook page. “Most of my tenure has been representing issues affecting nearly all of my 40,000 constituents and 5 million state residents. I’m just as humbled righting a wrong for Sarai and 6,400 Dreamers in SC.
“I’m looking forward, election year or not, to making the conservative argument as to why we want all of our residents educated and working in a skilled job (it’s not that hard of an argument),” he said.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.