These Dreamers built their lives in Orlando. Now they’re scared of what comes next.

In limbo

These Dreamers built their lives in Orlando. Now they’re scared of what comes next.
Illustration by Jeff Drew

When it comes to immigrants, Barack Obama's legacy will always be mixed. On the one hand, more than 2.5 million people were deported during his administration – more than any of his predecessors – enough for immigration advocates to dub him the "Deporter in Chief."

On the other, he advocated for comprehensive immigration reform, which died in Congress in 2013. And he also offered undocumented youth hope, in the form of an executive order: the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. On June 15, 2012, from behind a podium in the White House Rose Garden, Obama announced that the new federal program would grant those brought to the U.S. illegally as children the right to live, study and work via a two-year renewable permit.

"These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they're friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag," he said. "They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper."

But to apply for the temporary residency grant, there were rules: applicants had to be under age 31 prior to the DACA announcement; they must have been younger than 16 prior to their arrival in the U.S.; they were required to be in school or have the equivalent of a high school diploma; and they couldn't have been previously convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanor.

Since then, almost 800,000 of the nation's more than 1.1 million eligible immigrants were granted their permits – approximately 33,000 of whom reside in Florida, which boasts the country's fourth highest rate of recipients. Those protected by DACA came to be known as "Dreamers," named after failed legislation in Congress.

For those who'd lived in the nation's shadow, the new policy was a sort of renaissance. Everyday necessities, whether that be getting a driver's license or qualifying for student loans, were at last within reach.

It wouldn't last.

Enter the Trump administration.

On Sept. 5, a seemingly gleeful Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration's decision to end the DACA program, giving Congress until March 5 to figure out what to do with the Dreamers. The announcement was enough to unleash fear and anger throughout the country's young unauthorized population. While immigration hardliners were ecstatic, immigrant youths took to soapboxes of all kinds, from the steps in front of Orlando City Hall to the streets of Washington, D.C.

No matter how loud their voices have been, though, their futures have never been more uncertain.

We asked some local DACA recipients to tell us about their lives, how they feel when faced with anti-immigrant sentiment and what being American means to them.

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