DALLAS – Almost five years ago, President Obama drastically changed the lives of millions of young, undocumented immigrants through a program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
What DACA did was lift the shadow of deportation from young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children by their parents. Eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety were able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization.
The young people in the DACA program became known as "Dreamers," the name given to the original legislation, the DREAM Act, which stood for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. It failed to pass the House of Representatives in 2010 and was revamped into DACA in 2012.
DACA provided immigrants like Gibran Juarez the chance to explore opportunities.
"WOO! When I heard about the DACA program I was ecstatic," Gibran told CBN News.
DACA: Game-Changer for Young, Undocumented Immigrants
That's because life has been anything but easy for him. Since Gibran came to the U.S. at just three months old, he didn't enjoy the same freedoms as his two younger siblings who were born here.
Gibran says he didn't even know he wasn't an American citizen until he was 16 and learned he wouldn't be able to accept scholarship offers to play soccer in college.
"I would see the letters and I would say thank you. I would write the coaches back, thank you for the opportunity, thank you for scouting me, unfortunately, I would have to reject and decline," Gibran said.
On top of that, he couldn't get a driver's license or a job, making his future uncertain.
"It was kind of tough to swallow at the time because I was just a teenager. I'm thinking, 'If I can't get a job now, then what's in the future?' I just had to stay positive. There has to be something else for me," he said.
Then came DACA, which provided eligible recipients a work permit, driver's license and Social Security number. Gibran mad ethe most of it, graduating from college with a degree in nutrition and getting a job at an elementary school teaching Physical Education.
"My emphasis was pretty much, 'Make America Healthy Again,'" Gibran quipped.
Even with DACA, No Easy Path to Citizenship
Still, DACA recipients must pay around $500 every two years to renew their application. Many say there's no easy path to citizenship.
Juan Carols Cerda got a glimpse of life without DACA status when a technical issue delayed his renewal. Although he applied months in advance, the mix-up kept him from teaching his kindergarten class for five weeks.
"I had to be away from my students. I wasn't allowed to volunteer. I didn't know what was going on with the school, whether I'd be going back to my job once I got my work permit.
Eventually, the error was fixed, and Juan Carlos returned to his classroom.
"It was just one big group hug. After we settled down we went back to the classroom and I told them in simple terms I had been away because I was an immigrant," he said.
Giving Back to the Community
The Yale graduate went into teaching to give something back to his childhood community.
"I envisioned myself just giving kids a chance from this community to be able to play soccer at school, to be able to have the chance to go to a university one day like Yale," Juan Carlos said.
Gibran said he's very grateful for the DACA program, but constantly worries about the uncertainty in the country he calls home.
"There's always fear that it might go away. Without DACA, where do we go?" Gibran added.
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump hinted about eliminating the DACA program. But he seems to have changed his mind.
"It's a very tough subject," Trump said. "We're going to deal with DACA with heart."
Making DACA Better with New Legislation
Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fl., believes his bill, the "Recognizing America's Children Act," can be that heart. It would provide a pathway to citizenship for those, like Gibran and Juan Carlos, who came to the U.S. as children.
"What we want to do is recognize these young people, many of whom came to this country at an age where they don't even remember their countries of origin," Rep. Curbelo told CBN News.
"They didn't break any laws. They were brought with their families to this country, They went to school with our own kids, grew up in our schools speaking English, and today they just want to be recognized as America's children, which is exactly what they are."
Curbelo says this bill would give those young people an opportunity to make it official.
"They have to be productive.They have to be people in good moral standing. They have to obtain a college degree, serve in the military, or have a valid work permit and be actively contributing to our economy. If they can check one of those boxes, they can earn a path to full American citizenship," Curbelo said.
He hopes the president will agree if the bill makes it to his desk.
"President Trump has the opportunity to become a hero for these young people and do the right thing by encouraging this kind of legislation. And hopefully we here in the Congress do the right thing by sending it to him," Curbelo said.