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Wichita 'Dreamers' To Mark 9th Anniversary Of DACA

Katelynn McIlwain / KMUW
Yeni Telles is the community organizer for Sunflower Community Action. The nonprofit is hosting a "DACA Turns 9" celebration on Tuesday.

For nine years, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA, has protected people illegally brought to the U.S. as children.

Sunflower Community Action, a nonprofit in Wichita that fights for racial and economic equity, is hosting a “DACA Cumple 9,” or “DACA Turns 9,” celebration on Tuesday. It will be nine years to the date that former President Barack Obama signed DACA into law in 2012.

From 4 to 7 p.m., people can come to the Evergreen Recreational Center and enjoy music, food, games and Latin dancing.

However, Yeni Telles, the community organizer for Sunflower, says there’s more to the event than just a celebration.

“We also want to bring awareness to the community of the need of the passage of the Dream and Promise Act, which is at the Senate at this moment,” Telles said. “And we just need the support of the community, the state and our leaders.”

The Dream and Promise Act would provide steps for Dreamers to become citizens. Under DACA, Dreamers have no such path. They have to renew their credentials every two years.

Esmeralda Tovar-Mora is a Dreamer in Hutchinson. She says she arrived in the U.S. when she was 18 months old. Now, she works as a case manager at a mental health center. She says her fourth DACA renewal is coming up this year.

Credit Courtesy

The Trump administration suspended DACA, and no one could apply for or renew their protection. President Joe Biden has since revived it.

“Obviously, the past four years have made it really clear just how tenuous those protections are,” Tovar-Mora said. “It's always in the back of your mind.

“It's a weight that you always carry on your shoulders. And I feel like I need a chiropractor from that.”

The instability is why Tovar-Mora stresses the need for legislation leading to citizenship for Dreamers and immigration reform for all migrants. Both Tovar-Mora and Telles said they want the community to see immigrants as humans first and to let compassion guide the way toward that reform.

“Personally, growing up, if I didn't tell you, nobody knew the difference,” Tovar-Mora said. “I walked like them, I talked like them, I pledged allegiance to the flag like they did. There was nothing different about me other than the color of my skin.”

Now, Tovar-Mora enjoys recreating Gordon Ramsay recipes – especially burgers – with her husband. She likes to collect vinyl records and take her nearly 5-year-old daughter to activities like gymnastics and dance.

If the Dream and Promise Act does not pass, she says one of her last resorts will be to have her husband petition for her citizenship.

“The only reason why I hesitated is because I know how grueling this process is for myself,” Tovar-Mora said. “I don't want to put him through that.”

For now, Sunflower is continuing to help people in Kansas sign up for DACA protections. At the DACA Turns 9 event, anyone wanting to renew their DACA credentials or apply for the first time can participate in a workshop and receive help from an attorney.

The first 10 people to register will receive $200 to help with application fees.

For Telles, just learning to appreciate the culture is a large part of immigration reform. She recalled a conversation with a friend who visited Colombia. He adored the culture there.

“And I said, ‘How will be the United States without the diversity of immigrants?’” Telles said. “You don't have to go to Mexico to see the dances that we're going to be bringing, you don't have to go somewhere else to eat the food. It's here in our community. And this is brought by immigrants.”

For more information about Daca Turns 9, visit Sunflower Community Action’s Facebook page.

Katelynn McIlwain is KMUW's Korva Coleman Diversity in Journalism intern. She will be a senior this fall at the University of Missouri.

Katelynn McIlwain is a senior at the University of Missouri majoring in journalism (with a magazine writing emphasis) and minoring in digital storytelling. When she’s on campus, she works as an intern at the MU News Bureau and as a resident advisor for MU Residential Life. She is also a member of the Alpha Omega campus ministry.