Many young immigrants around the country took a deep breath and relaxed for the first time in four years when Joe Biden won the election.
The president-elect has already promised to extend Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The Obama-era program has allowed the more than 643,000 people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to legally work in the country, access a Social Security card and provide protections against deportation.
President Trump has spent years trying to overturn it. And for Reyna Montoya, it was a personal attack. She came to Arizona from Mexico with her family when she was a young girl. The 29-year-old DACA recipient is the founder of the immigrant advocacy group Aliento in Phoenix. One of their campaigns was able to mobilize 25,000 young and Latinx voters to cast a ballot this year.
She was sitting in her bed on Saturday, surrounded by her dogs, when she heard the news of Biden’s win. She says she started crying, not because she was excited about a Biden administration but because of the weight lifted off of her shoulders.
“It's sad to see that so much trauma that we have to endure from deportations of loved ones to constantly living in fear that tomorrow can be the last day that I stay here in my beautiful Arizona,” she says. “It's been very difficult and it was just a huge sigh of relief.”
But Biden’s victory brings dueling feelings — both consolation and consternation.
“I also feel relieved that President-elect Biden is already making statements that he's going to reinstate the DACA program on day one,” she says, “but also a lot of mixed emotions about if he's going to follow through with this commitment.”
Trump’s efforts the past four years to erode DACA protections were burdensome, she says. She would wake up every morning to check if any protections had been eradicated overnight and kept a close eye on the administration’s multi-year attempt to overturn DACA, a case the Supreme Court ultimately ruled against.
“It was a lot of stress to have to endure that,” she says. “And even this year, that meant that now I have to renew my work permit every year instead of every two years,” a result of the Trump administration’s decision to make recipients renew every year to make it more complicated.
Montoya couldn’t vote in the election, but that didn’t stop her from being active in it. She says the end goal was never to turn Arizona blue, but more to push for policies that ensure marginalized people have a voice. A key part of her efforts was getting young people involved civically.
“For me, it was really important that we have young people being educated on the matter and that we're not saying that young people don't care or they're apathetic,” she says.
She helped many different young people in her life with the voting process — whether it was explaining ballot propositions or simply reminding people of Election Day deadlines.
In some ways, Montoya’s journey has just started, and she acknowledges there’s a lot more work to do. On day one of Biden’s administration, she wants him to reinstate the DACA program as the first step. The next actions need to include bolstering the program, she says, so fellow recipients have a clear road to citizenship and can “live in peace.”
She would also like to see Biden’s COVID-19 recovery and economic relief plans heavily involve Latinx folks — a community that has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
“Cautiously optimistic” is how she feels going into the upcoming months. If Biden fails to deliver on promises of immigration reform, Montoya says he’ll likely feel the heat of criticism.
To move forward on immigration reform, Montoya argues branding “ultra-partisan” campaigns doesn’t work. Moving toward the center will unite people — take the campaigns of Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema or Sen.-elect Mark Kelly, for example — in order to come up with concrete solutions to rebuild the country.
Many people in the progressive community, which includes immigrants and Latinx voters, would argue the contrary, and Montoya says she sympathizes with that. But she says with half of the population feeling voiceless, the conversation needs to pivot toward how the government can better serve its people.
“I think that if half of the population feel left out from the conversation, we need to dig deeper,” she says. “This can not only be about Donald Trump and Biden, it has to be about us.”
This segment aired on November 13, 2020.