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Undocumented immigrants throughout the country live with the same crushing fear of deportation, which limits their job choices, permeates their personal relationships, and muzzles their ability to advocate for themselves when they are mistreated. A recent survey found that in four major cities, including Los Angeles, 70 percent of undocumented immigrants said they were unlikely to contact law enforcement if they were victims of violent crime. Rahmaputri's friend, UC Berkeley alum Ju Hong, experienced this phenomenon firsthand: In 2010, he and his family decided not to call the police after their Alameda apartment was robbed.
A group called ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education) provided social and emotional support to Rahmaputri, and she gained courage and hope from the stories of others. After the DREAM Act once again died in Congress that December of 2010 (Napolitano had testified in support of it), Rahmaputri decided to take a stand during the 2011 national "coming out week" for undocumented students. Petite and soft-spoken, she announced to her entire high school government class that she was undocumented. Initially, other students were confused by what she meant. "I mean, I don't have papers," she explained. Only when Rahmaputri said, "I'm here in the US illegally" did everyone comprehend. Almost universally, her classmates offered their sympathy and support. "I felt embarrassed, but relieved that I shared a secret of my life," Rahmaputri recalled. "Since then, I feel that it's not that bad to share my secret."
Luckily for Rahmaputri, California offers state-sponsored support that would be nearly impossible to enact in immigrant-hostile Arizona. California is exceptional in that it allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition. However, Rahmaputri's family, like most undocumented families, could not afford these still high fees without federal financial aid, which is allocated only for documented people. (The Pew Hispanic Center estimated that the median annual income for a household headed by an undocumented person was $36,000 in 2007.) So Rahmaputri opted to attend community college instead, in the hopes that she could transfer to UC Berkeley and receive one of the school's coveted private scholarships for undocumented students. By now, Napolitano had left Arizona and was leading the Department of Homeland Security — an agency that threatened to hijack Rahmaputri's dreams.
In the spring of 2012, after Rahmaputri's family's application for residency was rejected, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials called them for a meeting and told the family they would be deported on June 1, 2012 (a date that was later postponed to December 31, 2012). ICE officials then marched Rahmaputri and her panicked parents into another room to be fingerprinted. In the corridor, the family saw other immigrants chained by their ankles, wrists, and waists. "That could soon be me," Rahmaputri recalled thinking.
On June 15, a new federal program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) arrived just in time for the Rahmaputris. The program provides a temporary reprieve by enabling Dreamers to get work authorization and live in the United States for two years without the threat of deportation. "That's why I'm still here right now," Rahmaputri said. "Before DACA, I was hopeless."
Depending on whom you talk to, Rahmaputri may or may not have Napolitano to thank for DACA. Napolitano and Obama have publicly stated that DACA was Napolitano's initiative. However, multiple sources have disputed this claim. In an interview, an Obama administration official whom the Express has agreed not to identify corroborated allegations first reported by Politico's Glenn Thrush that Napolitano supported DACA only after heavy and prolonged pressure from the White House. Napolitano's former chief of staff, however, denied these allegations.
Regardless, prioritization memos that Napolitano issued to ICE as a means to focus government resources on undocumented criminals and recent arrivals may have played a role in preventing the deportation of Rahmaputri's parents. More than 1,600 people signed a Change.org petition in support of the family as well. ICE then released a statement deferring a decision on the planned deportation.
Rahmaputri's family was incredibly lucky. Despite DHS's stated policy, individuals who had committed no serious crimes (or no crimes at all, besides being undocumented) represented a majority of those deported under Napolitano's leadership. Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), saw hundreds of mothers, fathers, Dreamers, and heads of households deported during Napolitano's tenure — a fact backed up by DHS documents. "Within the Latino community, almost everybody knows someone who's been deported," she said.
Oftentimes, families that escaped deportation could not have done so without the help of groups like CHIRLA. "What we have been able to do is to stop deportations one-by-one, by going directly many times to the White House and to DHS on a case-by-case basis," Salas explained.
Today, Rahmaputri's family remains in a state of perpetual limbo — waiting and hoping for reform that would allow them to gain a path to permanent residency or citizenship. An estimated 11 million other undocumented immigrants are waiting, too, and both Republican and Democratic Congress members have worked unsuccessfully for the past decade to craft a humane and long-term solution. Most serious analysts agree that it would be nearly impossible — financially, logistically, and morally — to deport everyone. The McCain-Kennedy immigration reform plan, which almost passed in 2007, would have given the vast majority of existing undocumented immigrants a path to legal residency or citizenship.
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