For the first time, there is no Christmas tree adorning Veronica Zavaleta’s usually festive home.
“Right now we are in limbo,” says Zavaleta. “I can’t even prepare for Christmas. I don’t have the Christmas spirit in me.”
She pauses. Then adds, “I don’t want to set up my last Christmas tree.”
She says it is too painful to imagine this could be the last holiday with her two teenage sons, whose work permits through DACA expire next year.
This week marks the halfway point on the six-month deadline President Trump gave Congress to decide the fate of close to one million immigrants brought to the country as children. More than 8,000 Tennesseans risk losing protection if Congress doesn’t pass the DREAM Act.
That’s why Zavaleta, along with 16 other local mothers, decided to show up to Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander’s offices in Nashville. They delivered hand-written Christmas cards, much like the letters their children might write to Santa Claus, asking for one wish: a DREAM Act.
For the moms, most of whom are undocumented, there could be immediate repercussions. Revealing their identities could attract the attention of immigration authorities.
“I am scared, yes,” says Zavaleta. “It’s difficult to step forward and say, ‘Here I am,’ but which mother out there doesn’t want to protect their kids? When you see your kid at risk, you take everything to save those kids.”
Though many DACA recipients have been vocal, their parents have been heard from less often. There’s a marked cultural difference between the older and younger generation of immigrants. Their children are less afraid, they feel American, and through DACA they have had a taste of freedom. But many of their parents arrived in the U.S. at a time when living in the shadows was the only way, when all one could hope for was to remain inconspicuous enough to simply be overlooked.
Zully Vargas says parents take the journey over the border in search of the elusive "American Dream." For her, that meant bringing her young daughter to a country where she would be able to go to college and have a chance at a better future.
But lately she’s felt a great sense of guilt. Vargas has lived in Tennessee for two decades and says when the news about the end of DACA broke, her 21-year old daughter told her she was considering dropping out of college. She had two semesters left on her nursing degree.
“That moment was when I thought, ‘I destroyed your life,’” says Vargas.
“Instead of bringing her to a better future, I thought, ‘What did I do to my daughter’s life by bringing her here?’ ”
Vargas says she’s had to push through the pain, and so has her daughter. She’s continued school, though her permit might expire before she can get her first job with the degree she’s worked so hard to attain.
The action by DACA mothers is part of “12 Days of #DreamAction,” an ongoing campaign by the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition. Nationwide, immigrant advocacy groups are pushing for Congress to make a decision before Christmas.