HOUSTON — Angelica Velazquez came to the United States at age 3 when her parents brought her from Mexico to the United States. They came on tourist visas that they then overstayed.
Now 20, Velazquez applied for, paid her fees and was accepted as part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
The program has become a political football during a season of a government shutdown, a border wall proposal and pending mid-year elections. In Houston, about 35,800 — out of 800,000 nationwide — so-called “Dreamers” who have so far been shielded from deportation are anxious.
“We are not asking for free things or handouts. All we want is to be able to work and be part of this society. We are not taking anything away from people, we are contributing,” said Velazquez, who has a job, attends college and has obtained a driver’s license.
A member of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Aldine, she said, “I’ve led a youth and young adult music ministry and faithfully participate every Sunday in the choir.”
Velazquez was among those, including Father Carmelo Hernandez, pastor at St. Leo the Great, who attended a recent new conference organized by The Metropolitan Organization and held at the church to support continuing the DACA program. The group had packets of 20,000 postcards that they were mailing to legislators to seek a resolution.
In September, President Donald Trump announced that he would end DACA this March and he also called on Congress to come up with a legislative solution to keep the program in place. Many are urging members of Congress to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, which has long been proposed and which gives DACA recipients the “Dreamer” name.
The postcards were mailed to several Texas members of Congress: U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, and U.S. Rep. Pete Olson and Ted Poe, all Republicans, as well as U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Gene Green, both Democrats.
The Metropolitan Organization also has planned an afternoon accountability session at the church hall Feb. 18, inviting Republican and Democratic candidates who are going to run for Green’s congressional seat to speak at the event. Green recently announced he would not run for re-election.
Spokeswoman Elizabeth Valdez said the organization “will be following up with congressional members and their responses to the public’s support of the DACA program.”
After Trump announced an end to the DACA program, a federal judge in California granted a temporary injunction against the termination of DACA, thus allowing Dreamers currently registered with the government to apply for renewal.
In the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, attorneys with Catholic Charities’ St. Frances Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance have been busy with offering free workshops to help applicants renew their expiring DACA permits.
In fiscal year 2017, the center held 25 workshops and filed for 439 applications. To date this year, many more workshops have been held and more than 189 have been helped with their renewals, even amid uncertainty about the fate of DACA.
“Some of the applicants, even though they may lose their filing fees of hundreds of dollars if the government decides to stop the program, still want to go forward with the renewal request. That shows their determination and hope,” she said.