Octavio Ramirez, 18, is a dreamer in more ways than one.
Octavio is a student at Southwestern Illinois College, where he is studying to be a civil engineer.
He is also undocumented. Octavio and his mother and older brother came to the United States from northern Mexico when he was five. They arrived on tourist visas. Once in America, they joined their father who lived in O’Fallon.
Octavio’s father was an electronic engineer in Mexico, but lost his job. For almost two years he remained unemployed. Then, in desperation, he emigrated to America where he found work as a clothing salesman.
Soon Octavio’s dream could turn into a nightmare. Presently, children of undocumented immigrants are protected from deportation by a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. However, the Trump Administration has hinted that DACA could go away. That means Octavio’s dream of being a civil engineer would also go away.
“I see DACA as an opportunity to work and get an education and contribute to society,” Octavio told Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL 12) during an Aug. 22 meeting at O’Fallon City Hall. Without DACA he could be deported or drift into society’s shadows working as a roofer or landscaper for less than minimum wage and no benefits.
More than 750,000 youth have received protection through DACA since its inception by the Department of Homeland Security in 2012. While DACA provides no legal status, it does provide recipients with a temporary reprieve from deportation and employment authorization for legal work opportunities in the United States.
The Catholic Bishops have long supported DACA youth and continue to do so,” Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, Chair of the Migration Committee, said recently.
Octavio says many members of his family are American citizens now. His younger sister was born here, as were his brother’s two sons.
Bost declined to allow a Messenger reporter to attend the meeting, but afterwards, Octavio said that he asked the congressman to look at the effect repealing the law would have on families and those who came here as children without their consent. Bost told him that he has to look at the big picture, at the drugs and violence associated with illegal immigration, and that his first priority was to secure the border.
For now, Octavio says he lives with uncertainty, unsure whether he should renew his DACA status, which expires every two years. “With DACA I don’t have to be scared,” he told Bost.
Octavio was accompanied by representatives from Catholic Relief Services. The group also asked Bost not to decrease funding for foreign aid. CRS sees the two topics as related. “With development aid, you can build a better life in your own county, rather than coming to America,” said Sister Julie Huiskamp, a social worker with Catholic Urban Programs and a CRS representative.
“I don’t think it was a waste of time,” said CRS representative Cheryl Sommer. “We let [Bost] know that for people in the district this is an important issue. Maybe it will sink in. After all, he got the Catholic vote last election.”