As the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments surrounding President Obama’s executive orders on immigration, known as expanded DACA (DACA+) and DAPA, Define American will be sharing the stories of undocumented immigrants who would either be able to seek temporary deportation relief under one of the two programs currently frozen by the court system, and those who are afforded the same protections under DACA. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children limited benefits including temporary deportation relief and work authorization. Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) grants the same benefits to the parents of U.S. citizens. Neither are a pathway to citizenship. The Supreme Court will hold a hearing on DACA+ and DAPA on April 18, with a decision expected sometime in June. With a lack of action in Congress, the executive orders are currently the only national immigration efforts in motion.
Dan-el Padilla Peralta, 31
Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Dan-el Padilla Peralta came to the United States with his family at the age of four. After overstaying their visas and falling out of legal immigration status, he and his family lived in poverty and spent a year in New York City’s shelter system. With the support of mentors, he was admitted to Collegiate, a private all-boys’ school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, from which he graduated cum laude in 2002. He received his AB in Classics summa cum laude from Princeton University, where he was chosen salutatorian of the class of 2006; his MPhil in Greek and Roman History (Classics) from the University of Oxford; and his PhD in Classics from Stanford University. He is currently a Mellon Research Fellow and Lecturer in Classics at Columbia University. In the summer of 2016, he will be returning to Princeton as an assistant professor in Classics. His newly published memoir Undocumented (Penguin Press, 2015) recounts his coming of age as an undocumented immigrant in the many communities he came to call home. A historian of Roman culture, Dr. Padilla has written on ceramics as evidence for pilgrimage in mid-republican Rome and is now plugging away at a monograph on the religious world of the Roman Republic (under contract with Princeton University Press). His writings on ancient immigrants and contemporary politics have appeared in Eidolon and Newsweek. Projects currently gestating include a co-edited volume on appropriation in Roman culture, two article-length explorations of classical reception in the 19th and 20th-century Hispanic Caribbean and a study of forms of citizenship ancient and modern.
What would a decision in favor of DACA+/DAPA mean for your life?
It would mean that my family’s struggle—and the struggles of so many other undocumented families—will not have been in vain. My family was lucky to secure status; so many other families have not had that good fortune and would stand to benefit immensely from a decision in favor of DACA+/DAPA.
What do you want other Americans to know about what’s it’s like to be undocumented in the U.S.?
That the experience of being undocumented revolves around the same question that W.E.B. Du Bois poses in the opening chapter of The Souls of Black Folk: “How does it feel to be a problem?” When you’re undocumented, the inner torment comes not only from the constant threat of deportation, or the frustration of being denied opportunities for employment and schooling; what rankles is the feeling (and reality) of disenfranchisement.
What is the first thing you’d do if you received deferred action or citizenship?
If I received citizenship, the first thing I’d do—after celebrating—is enter every local, state and federal election in which I can participate into my personal calendar.