The Trump administration’s September decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has led to months of court battles and public debates. On April 24th, yet another judge ruled in favor of the “dreamers,” though their status remains uncertain. Even as most Americans focus on the end game, however, the dreamers themselves are enduring a waiting period fraught with worry, fear and sleepless nights.
Worry and waiting and deep uncertainty can be even more stressful than facing down the worst-case scenario when the wait is over. Even if all ends well, a happy conclusion cannot erase the suffering that preceded it. To paraphrase a comment from a study about the experience of awaiting biopsy results, a benign outcome is not a benign experience.
DACA recipients are experiencing an even more acute version of this emotional bind. It’s not just that they don’t know what’s coming but also that they don’t know when it’s coming. Uncertainty amplifies uncertainty. And that’s terrifying.
In the case of the dreamers, all three branches of government have helped create a stressful waiting period. The stakes are high: The dreamers face the possibility that their educational and career pursuits will come to a screeching halt, and they and their families may be deported to their country of origin.
“Now I’m living in fear,” a Dreamer states. “I have a year and a half of school left and only a year left on my status. What am I supposed to do when I graduate? Was this all for nothing?” Another claimed that upon learning that DACA had been rescinded, “I was thinking my entire educational goal was going to come to an end and all I ever worked for was gone.”
Dreamers contemplating the end of DACA means more than simply planning ahead. It means confronting the possibility of a fundamental shift in their identities, from “American” to something uncertain and unfamiliar. It also means losing the comfort that one study found the DACA program provided to its recipients.
One Dreamer articulated this fuzzy expectation of loss in just such terms: “When the DACA program was rescinded, I cried. I began to develop anxiety and was also fearful. I thought, we are back to square one with nothing to help us survive,” the student said. “Having a California ID was so rewarding, it gave me so much confidence and it made me feel like an American.”
Dreamers do not have the luxury of knowing when their uncertainty will end, and their wait may be a long one. Since the program was rescinded in September, the moment of truth when dreamers would finally learn their fate has approached and then receded into the distance time and time again.
The White House’s mercurial stance on the program has vacillated between encouragingly supportive and ominously oppositional; Congress has taken up and then abandoned the issue numerous times; and the courts have handed down rulings on the DACA program that have largely protected the dreamers but nonetheless serve to prolong their uncertainty and complicate efforts to manage their expectations.
The dreamers are buried under layers of doubt as they await a final decision on the DACA program. The latest court decision gives the Trump administration 90 days to provide a compelling argument for the rescission of the program, failing which the program will reopen to new applications. In the meantime, the dreamers face another period of waiting and worrying. Even if their wait ends with a satisfactory fix to the DACA program, I suspect that its recipients will not soon forget the suffering they endured during this time of uncertainty.