A dreamer in City Hall

Local DACA recipient shares her hopes and fears for her future

One Long Beach city employee can’t forget certain memories when she heads to her boss’s office on the 14th floor of the Long Beach City Hall. Yuritzi Galarza, a legislative assistant for Councilmember Al Austin, knows that public-policy dialogue will often remind her of who she is. The 24-year-old Paramount resident is a recipient of DACA, an immigration policy with an acronym that stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The Obama-era program allowed her to go to school and even get a renewable work permit without the threat of deportation.

Galarza came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 11 years old. She attended middle school and high school in Long Beach. She’s even a “49er,” a graduate of Cal State University Long Beach (CSULB) who received her bachelor’s degree in political science last year.

When United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that DACA will end, Galarza said she received a text from her employer that September morning a few weeks ago.

“I got you,” Austin wrote.

Those three words from the 8th-district councilmember stayed with Galarza, she said in a phone interview. In the meantime, she still had to work at the city councilmember’s office. She was hired this year in February to work on the municipal payroll.

DACA means so much to her. Galarza described how she and her family lived “in the shadows” before she qualified for the program.

Her parents were undocumented. They not only lived under the threat of deportation, but, without a Social Security number needed for a rental application, their housing options were limited. They could only rent a garage. Galarza said she had to work two jobs to pay for her education while she was a full-time student.

Galarza’s grades suffered because she was working more than 90 hours every two weeks and attending classes at CSULB. She had to take two buses to and from school because she couldn’t get a driver’s license. After DACA, Galarza and her brother qualified for Social Security numbers and found they could rent a house. Post-DACA, Galarza could get a driver’s license and eventually get a car. She even qualified for a grant to continue her college education. Galarza only had to pay $100 out of her pocket towards college, and she could focus on her school work.

As a so-called “Dreamer,” Galarza is one of the thousands of young people who gained some legitimacy under DACA. Citing statistics from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Pew Research Center reported that 790,000 individuals received relief under DACA.

Republicans like Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a congressman from Orange County, applauded the announcement to end DACA even though he expressed concern for the situation of DACA recipients.

“However much we may sympathize with the hundreds of thousands of these children, many of whom have reached adulthood and have become ‘Americanized,’ we in Congress must work to prevent such cynical loopholes from being created again by executive fiat,” Rohrabacher wrote in a press release earlier this month. “Those loopholes, make no mistake, incentivized the dangerous journeys of these families across our border.”

Rohrabacher continued to explain his own concerns with the DACA policy.

“Let’s be clear: legalizing their status sent a message throughout the world that our doors were open to share all the benefits accorded American citizens,” Rohrabacher said in his statement. “Many of those benefits came at the expense of already strapped taxpayers. These immigrants were good people who responded to a green light to enter our country. What they found, in too many cases, was a legal mishmash, the law mocked.”

Galarza has plenty of sympathizers besides her employer. Rep. Alan Lowenthal, who represents the greater Long Beach area, said in a phone interview this week that his office has also hired interns who identified themselves as Dreamers who came to the U.S. as children with their parents.

“They are people who have lived in the United States. This is their country,” Lowenthal said. “There are people who are doing well and providing resources. They are working, or they are students in this country. They’re exactly what we need.”

With the uncertainty of the future of DACA recipients, Galarza has reason to fear. While she and her brother applied for the program in its early years, her permit expires in July of 2018. The renewal deadline of Oct. 5 for DACA recipients only applies to those program participants whose benefits expire between Sept. 5 and March 5, according to the website of the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The Signal Tribune asked Lowenthal how he would address Republicans who say they want to enforce U.S. law and find a way to reduce the number of undocumented aliens.

“What do they mean?” Lowenthal asked. “They want to have a full discussion on immigration policy? That would be great for the country.” The representative recalled that several years ago Congress had an opportunity to pass comprehensive legislation covering immigration. They didn’t.

“But [if] the Republicans want to start that discussion and really look at a comprehensive immigration-reform bill– hopefully modeled after the bill that came from the Senate– they can look at it. I would be strongly in support of it,” Lowenthal said.

Last Tuesday, Sept. 19 into the early hours of Wednesday, the Long Beach City Council voted 7-1 in favor of a resolution to support California’s policy of SB 54, legislation which allows the state to offer some protections to undocumented immigrants. That legislation has been dubbed a “Sanctuary State” policy, and the Long Beach City Council’s new resolution that will be called the “Long Beach Values Act of 2017” has been called a “Sanctuary City” policy. The council also voted to direct the city manager’s office to draft local policy that “expands on SB 54” within the city and “affirm an aggressive approach” to advocating for “pro-immigrant policies.”

“We’re making a broader statement about protecting DACA participants,” 7th District City Councilmember Roberto Uranga told the Signal Tribune in a phone interview Tuesday before the council met later that night.

“And that’s, I think, the message that we want to send out there […] that DACA participants need not worry being in Long Beach,” Uranga said. “We will take care of them. They will be safe here.”

Galarza, in the meantime, still expects to work every day, as she always does. In her phone interview, she sounded upbeat for the most part as she recalled her story as a kid from Mexico City who now works for Long Beach City Hall.

“My dad always tells me, ‘Be positive. I mean, you know, just… things are going to happen.’ I mean…” Galarza’s voice trailed off momentarily then broke. “And I am scared. I’m not even telling you I’m not, because I am.”

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