On June 15, 2012, President Obama announced DACA, an executive action to lift the shadow of deportation for young people who came to the United States as undocumented immigrants. A decade later President Obama recently sat down with five Dreamers who enrolled in the program to reflect on the impact of DACA, how they’re contributing to their communities today, and the urgent work that remains to offer Dreamers a permanent solution to their status.
Take a look at their conversation, which was recorded on the stage of ¡Americano! Opens in a new tab, a musical that recently premiered Off Broadway and tells the story of one DACA recipient’s journey.
President Obama was joined by five young leaders who grew up in the United States as undocumented immigrants – Tony Valdovinos, Jessica Astudillo, Devashish Basnet, Josue de Paz, and Sumbul Siddiqui – and who are making their communities stronger through medicine, organizing, public service, and more.
Reflecting on his experience meeting Dreamers throughout his 2008 presidential campaign and in the White House, President Obama likened Dreamers’ stories to that of his own daughters, noting they “were as American as Malia or as Sasha were in terms of their values, their upbringing, their experiences. They loved this country deeply, and yet because of a piece of paper their lives were extraordinarily vulnerable.”
Aimed at undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, DACA Opens in a new tab was announced as an executive action that provided temporary protection from deportation and access to other opportunities, including work eligibility.
Since 2012, more than 800,000 people Opens in a new tab have been enrolled in the program, including more than 200,000 Opens in a new tab of whom served on the frontlines of COVID-19 response these past two years. Through DACA, these five Dreamers and many more across the country have been able to work, attend school, and contribute to their communities without the threat of deportation.
“DACA has just been that safety, that security…” Josue de Paz, a DACA recipient and incoming 2022-2023 Obama Scholar at Columbia University said. “It’s just been really powerful for me to be able to hope and to not live in fear.”
Their discussion touched on themes ranging from the unique challenges faced by children with undocumented status to experiences giving back to their communities that were made possible by DACA. It comes at a time when the future of protections offered under the DACA program remain uncertain Opens in a new tab. While the more than 600,000 active DACA recipients can currently continue to renew their temporary protections, Dreamers still lack a permanent solution to their immigration status Opens in a new tab and many young people who might have been previously eligible for the program have not been able to enroll due to ongoing court challenges. Many are limited from reaching full potential depending on the state they reside in – several states deny undocumented students in-state tuition, and many are unable to pursue certain professions due to professional licensing requirements.
In his conversation with roundtable participants, President Obama encouraged them to continue sharing their stories and being advocates in their communities, referencing the urgent need to reform the immigration system and the work that remains to provide a more permanent solution for all Dreamers. “I hope all of you continue to be advocates in whatever your professional lives are,” President Obama said. “I think that it is going to be a long road for us – and so the more voices like yours are out there, the better chance we have of changing people’s attitudes. Part of the reason why we feel like it’s important on this 10th anniversary to highlight it, is because it’s not done.”
Reflecting on their stories, President Obama noted, “Having seen the remarkable things that this group of DACA kids have done with their lives, what an asset they are to this country, I hope it inspires us to redouble our efforts to permanently resolve their status.”
Meet the Roundtable Participants
Jessica Astudillo is a resident physician at NYU Langone, training in pediatrics and treating pediatric patients through the pandemic. She received her M.D. from SUNY Upstate Medical University in 2021 and graduated from the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY in 2015. Jessica was born in Ecuador and moved to Queens at the age of two.
Devashish Basnet is a Dreamer who came from Nepal at age six. Devashish recently graduated from Hunter College, where he served as president of the college’s Undergraduate Student Government, and was one of 32 students in the United States selected as a 2022 Rhodes Scholar. At Hunter he has majored in political science with a concentration in international relations and minored in Asian American studies, music and human rights. Through a recent fellowship program, Devashish worked at the U.S.-Mexico border and aided families with migration stories that parallel those of his own family Opens in a new tab.
Josue de Paz is the CEO & Co-Founder of First Tech Fund Opens in a new tab, a nonprofit dedicated to closing the digital divide by providing low income and underserved communities with access to technology that allows them to pursue educational, personal development, and career opportunities. He is a member of the 2022-23 cohort of The Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University, a leadership development program where Scholars deepen their knowledge and skills and build new capacities and networks to accelerate their impact. Josue was born in Cuernavaca, Mexico and moved to West Los Angeles at the age of five. He’s been a DACA recipient since 2012.
Sumbul Siddiqui is an MD/MPH student at the Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health. After moving from Saudi Arabia at the age of four, she grew up in Georgia and learned of her undocumented status during her senior year of high school. She is a founding co-organizer of the COVID Equity Response Collaborative at Loyola and a recipient of the American Medical Association Foundation’s DREAM MD Equity Scholarship.
Tony Valdovinos is the founder of an Arizona-based consulting firm. He was born in Colima, Mexico and came to the United States at age two. He discovered his undocumented status when he attempted to register for the Marine Corps. After turning to community organizing, Tony became the first undocumented immigrant hired to work at Phoenix City Hall. His story serves as the basis for the musical ¡Americano! Opens in a new tab.