Editorial: Worry for the future haunts DACA students

There was an event last weekend in Greenport that, while strictly local in nature, connects the North Fork to the larger society around us, and, beyond that, to America and to discussions about immigration going on across the country.

The 8 p.m. Mass at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church is in Spanish. It draws a standing-room-only crowd of the kinds of men and women who do a great deal of the work on the North Fork, from cleaning motel bathrooms, cutting lawns and trimming hedges, to sophisticated masonry work.

The work load for undocumented workers is such on the North Fork that throughout this summer, prospective employers were calling the North Fork Spanish Apostolate in Riverhead looking for people to fill critical jobs. This says something about the demand for these people, but also the kinds of jobs local men and women who grew up here no longer do.

Besides attending the 8 p.m. Spanish Mass, those who came to St. Agnes Saturday night were there to honor Sister Margaret Smyth, who runs the North Fork Spanish Apostolate out of an office at St. John the Evangelist in Riverhead. Sister Margaret works with hundreds of Latinos — men, women and families with young children — to help them acclimate to new lives far from home on the North Fork.

She helps them with language classes and to find work, and she goes to court for them when employers fail to pay them proper wages. She will do that again this week when she will appear in a Riverhead courtroom on behalf of a group of workers.

Some of those who attended the Saturday Mass in Greenport are profoundly worried about their futures here. It is not just the larger discussion in Washington, D.C., about immigration as a whole and about building a wall along our southern border with Mexico, but also about the fate of DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Sister Margaret said after the Mass that there are dozens of DACA children across the region who now don’t know if they have a future here. Many are now in colleges, from Stony Brook University to New York University.

DACA allowed those people, brought into the United States illegally as children, to have amnesty from deportation, and to get Social Security cards, driver’s licenses and work permits — to have a secure future here, in other words.

President Donald Trump, an advocate for building that wall on the border, announced recently that he would rescind the DACA program in six months.

For a college student such as Mayra Gonzalez, 21, who came to the United States with her parents when she was 4 years old and has lived in Mattituck ever since, the reality of being an NYU student is a dream come true. She is an example of how DACA has fundamentally changed lives for the better.

“Prior to when DACA was passed, I thought about the reality that I might not be able to afford to get into college because of my status and it made me very upset,” she said. “Primarily the reason my parents brought me over was to provide me with a good education, and to not be able to continue that felt like a punch in the gut.”

Ms. Gonzalez will soon graduate from NYU. She worries less about her own future than about those of younger people.

“I’m more concerned as to what younger generations who can apply for DACA but now won’t be protected under that provision, what will happen to them?” she said. “I don’t think that going through the process of having the opportunities taken away from you is the best way to grow up.”

Very true.

Photo: Mass at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church last Saturday. (Credit: Elizabeth Wagner)