"This is my home now. My life is here.”

Three years ago, Eduardo Martinez thought he had it made.

Although he had illegally crossed the border from Mexico when he was 13, he applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. An Obama-era executive order, DACA allowed young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers” to live, work and go to school without fear of deportation. It cost Martinez a lot – almost $500 for the application, plus lawyer’s fees – and it wasn’t a path to citizenship. But DACA was important to Martinez, 29. He had a new son and was thinking of the future.

Perhaps most important, Martinez could get a driver’s license and a Social Security number. No longer having to work low-level jobs that paid under the table, he found a factory job at about twice the pay. In August 2017, he and his girlfriend bought a house in Bay View. A few months later, they married.

In September, however, President Donald Trump repealed DACA, and the fate of Dreamers took center court in a game of political ping-pong.

Martinez’s DACA status expires this August. If DACA ends and he cannot re-apply, he will lose his driver’s license. He’ll take his chances driving without a license and risk serious consequences if caught, including possible deportation. But bicycling or walking to work aren’t feasible, nor is public transportation.

There are other worries. Will he lose his factory job? His credit rating, home ownership or Social Security? His wife is a U.S. citizen, but it’s unclear how that will affect his status because, contrary to popular thinking, marrying a citizen does not automatically protect one from deportation.

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A lawyer might have answers, but lawyers are expensive. And even if Congress finds a way to temporarily protect Dreamers, what if the Trump administration – or Congress – changes the rules again?

Martinez tries not to dwell on questions he cannot answer. But he knows one thing. “Without DACA, I am going backwards, to a worse life,” he says. “I don’t want to go back to Mexico. It’s been 15 years already, and this is my home now. My life is here.”

Just under 800,000 people signed up for DACA after it began; this includes about 7,500 in Wisconsin, with the highest percentage in the Milwaukee area. Multiply Martinez’s story by the thousands and you get a glimpse of the human impact of DACA.

For now, Martinez is taking it day by day, trying not to obsess or get angry. When I ask if he’s worried about giving me his name and address, he shrugs. “They have that information anyway, because when you apply for DACA, you give it to them,” he says. “They know where they can find me.”

‘The New Land’ appears in the April 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning April 2nd, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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