A Turbulent Election Brings Back An Endless Cycle Of Anxiety For This Chicago-Area DACA Recipient

Dulce Dominguez, a DACA recipient
Dulce Dominguez, a DACA recipient, poses for a portrait in June 2020 in front of Waukegan High School, where she attended as a student. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Dulce Dominguez, a DACA recipient
Dulce Dominguez, a DACA recipient, poses for a portrait in June 2020 in front of Waukegan High School, where she attended as a student. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

A Turbulent Election Brings Back An Endless Cycle Of Anxiety For This Chicago-Area DACA Recipient

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Dulce Dominguez is a 26-year-old DACA recipient who lives in far north suburban Waukegan. She talks about her anxiety regarding the future against the backdrop of the 2020 election.

I spent some of my morning on Election Day sending text messages to family members and friends reminding them to vote. As I sat messaging them, I could not help but feel that little spark of anxiety that has become all too familiar.

In the weeks leading up to the election, I had learned to control it to the point of almost numbness. It wasn’t that the election meant little to an undocumented immigrant like me. But the possibility of being forced to live another four years of uncertainty and chaos was at times too much to manage.

The 2020 election has brought back many familiar emotions. Over the last several years, I have had to repeatedly ask myself what kind of future I am planning for. This week has been no different.

Undocumented immigrants are once again finding ourselves in a game of guessing and waiting. Refreshing Twitter and news apps every few minutes, hoping for the news that our families will not have to face another four years of threats of deportation. Just observing the close presidential race brings knots to my stomach. That so many people could agree with ideologies that question my family’s existence, and the value of my future brings me back to this endless cycle of anxiety.

I arrived in this country with my family just two weeks before my second birthday, and throughout the last 24 years living here, I have had to shape my life based on what may or may not be possible tomorrow. I grew up seeing my older siblings make personal and professional sacrifices because of the uncertainty around their status.

For my older brother, it meant turning down athletic scholarships to continue pursuing both his education and his soccer career because his status kept him from traveling. He decided to stay focused on seeking a stable job close to home. My older sister, despite being a straight-A student, was forced to put away her dreams of becoming a nurse. After visiting the local community college, she was told she would never be able to obtain her license. At the time, there were no work permits, and Illinois had not yet opened access to professional licensing for undocumented students.

These realities influenced the decisions I made. I was not the soccer star, and I was not always the straight-A student, but I knew I wanted to continue my education past high school. Receiving letter after letter from colleges requesting proof of citizenship in order to receive financial assistance broke me at times. I found myself wondering whether college was the best option, and whether I would ever be able to have full control over the future I could plan for myself.

I grew up learning to create priorities based on what was going to provide the more secure outcome. Then, a program that would give me temporary protection became available when I graduated from high school in 2012. I became one of 800,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

DACA provided us with a two-year work permit and temporary relief from deportation. It also gave me a sense of stability and the confidence to pursue my goals. I began college courses and was working a stable job I really enjoyed. For some time, it felt as if life could be planned on my own terms. That is until the 2016 presidential election, when immigrant families became the target of xenophobic attacks.

I remember feeling so much uncertainty for what was in store for me and my family. What did this mean for my future and the work I had invested here in this country? In 2017, that future was challenged further with President Trump’s first attempt at rescinding the program, leaving thousands of DACA recipients in limbo.

The past four years have been filled with more waiting, monitoring numerous lawsuits, and deciding the best route for my life. Despite the ongoing instability, I graduated college. I even completed a master’s degree and began my journey as a social worker fighting for immigrant justice. This past June offered a ray of hope with the U.S. Supreme Court calling for the full reinstatement of the DACA program.

The celebration did not last long. Just one month later, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo limiting the DACA program to one-year renewals. As if this news paired with the extreme emotions of a presidential election was not enough, the Senate rushed to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, making it very likely that the DACA program could be in jeopardy under four more years of a Trump administration. The last few months, like the majority of my life, have been a never ending cycle of uncertainty, anxiety and fear.

As I reflect on what the 2020 election has shown us, it is evident that there is much work to do to dismantle the white supremacist ideologies that put immigrant families at risk of separation. Undocumented youth have been fighting for years for the right to live and grow in this country we call home. It is through fighting and organizing that we made a program like DACA possible.

While I remain uncertain about what the future holds, and continue to face the threat of losing my status, one thing’s for sure: There are more stories that need to be told and a lot more work that lies ahead. Regardless of what this election brings, I know we will continue to fight and mobilize our communities to secure the future and stability we deserve.