With the uncertainty that hangs around the air with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, the lives of Nigerians in America could come to an end.
It’s months to the Christmas of 2017 but for Oluwatoyosi Bankole*, a chemical engineering major at UT-Austin in Texas, it might be her last in America.
Uncertainty hangs in the air for Toyosi, a resident of Austin, Texas in the US, as thick as a brick as the news flashes on the TV screen: “DACA has been repealed.”
This piece of information has her mind reeling and her heart racing. The world she knew that was concrete as steel is now shaky as a house built on sand. The place she calls home might no longer be home for her.
Toyosi is a beneficiary of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals which was established by Barack Obama in 2012.
The immigration policy gave a temporary grant to minors who entered the US illegally.
It protected them from deportation and allowed them to obtain a driver’s license and work legally. This temporary grant lasted them for two years which would have to be renewed at the end of this duration.
Now that DACA is gone, Toyosi no longer has that protection. Interviewed in November 2017 by KUT, the website of the NPR station in Austin, Texas, Toyosi speaks about how the repeal of DACA has affected her life.
“My parents didn’t really tell me that I was undocumented and so when I was filling all of these forms out to apply for DACA that’s when I realized like, ‘Oh, this is different,” she says.
When she was 3 years old, her family moved to America. Her father was studying IT and worked in Houston. When the American economy was hit by a recession in 2008, his employer stopped sponsoring his visa.
While her parents haven’t received their green cards they applied for since 2001, their two other kids (Toyosi’s siblings) have social security numbers because they were born in America.
On September 19, 2018, Toyosi’s DACA status will expire. She hasn’t been to Nigeria since she was a kid, America is the place she considers home, the country she grew up in.
Toyosi isn’t the only Nigerian affected by the shutdown of DACA. “Just being a black woman in America already is challenging. Being a black person in America is challenging. Adding undocumented on top of that is a double whammy” says Tobore Oweh, one of the Nigerian beneficiaries of DACA.
In September 2017 she spoke to The Root, a black-centric website in America, about the effect of the DACA repeal on her personal life.
For Oweh, living in America feels like living in some sort of police state. “Everywhere I go, I have to be suspicious of everything,” she said. “It’s draining because you really can’t just live freely.”
Toyosi, Oweh are among the Nigerian recipients of DACA, 2,095 in number according to Inequality. With the repeal of the immigration policy, their status in the country isn’t quite clear.
DACA is an extension of the DREAM Act, a legislation that is meant to give children of illegal immigrants citizenship. The wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow as they say, and the DREAM Act is still stuck in Congress.
In 2012, Obama launched DACA to extend the DREAM Act and help the DREAMers (the name given to children of illegal immigrants).
With the Donald Trump taking over the Oval Office in 2017, and the Republicans having the majority in the Congress, it wasn’t surprising that DACA was one of the first policies that took a hit.
When DACA was repealed by the Trump administration, it put the lives of approximately 800,000 people in the balance.
Since 2012, DACA has helped 800,000 people to settle and live in America. With Trump’s anti-immigration policy aimed mainly at Latinos, there’s no guessing why he put a spanner in the works of this popular Obama policy.
“When will the U.S. stop sending $’s to our enemies, i.e. Mexico and others” tweeted Donald Trump on July 10, 2014. In office, he has continued his anti-Latino rhetoric.
While majority of DACA recipients are Latinos (according to Pew Research, more than 9 in 10 are born in Latin America), black immigrants also have benefited from it.
“The countries with the largest number of black DACA recipients are Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, andNigeria,” wrote the Washington Post on September 7, 2017. This statistic was provided by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. Remember, Donald Trump, calledNigeria as a “shit hole” country.
“I was just with my cousin from my mom’s side yesterday and she briefly mentioned illegal immigrants are getting deported,” says Seyi Tayo. He isn’t sure if these immigrants were Nigerians though.
Seyi is my cousin who has been living in America for over a decade and he isn’t bothered about DACA. “I didn’t get any handouts,” he says referring to the Obama policy. He, however, does admit that the end of DACA is not a good move by the Trump administration.
“It is sad that is ending because America is what it is because of immigrants and us young immigrants are the people that will make this nation great again,” Seyi says.
Seyi is not the only one who thinks DACA is not that big a problem to Nigerians living in America. Nigerian Hip-Hop legend eLDee the Don who is now based in Atlanta with his family feels the same way too.
“I wouldn’t consider DACA to be of major concern in the Nigerian-American community, and by Nigerian-Americans I mean immigrants of Nigerian descent. There’s a total of about 3.4 million black immigrants in the US and only about 3% of the black immigrants would have been eligible for DACA as at September 2017 when Trump cancelled it” says eLDee during a brief interview.
He further breaks it down. “Nigerian Americans make up only 9% of black immigrants in the US so the Nigerians affected by DACA are less than 10k, many of whom already have alternative paths to residency/citizenship. Most of the black immigrants that are really affected are from the south-Americas, or from countries like Jamaica, Haiti etc” he states.
A reality is that most Nigerians who come to America come with a plan to better themselves. “Most Nigerians who migrate to the US do so with a clear purpose and plan of becoming legal residents and there are many other paths to residency/citizenship,” says eLDee.
“Nigerian American immigrants are also more likely than all other immigrants to have some college education or even a master’s degree or be highly skilled, so employment is much easier, making the path to legal residence and eventual citizenship less painful” he further says.
Nigerians are known to adapt to any situation. Pulse spoke to Mariam (not real name), a 24-year-old Nigerian who has spent most of the last decade in America.
According to her, some Nigerians have gone religious on the DACA issue. “You know Nigerians though…they are praying about it,” she says. Mariam later adds “but I think people are obviously panicking a little…but they are trying to find ways around it I guess.”
Some of the ways Nigerians are using to beat the new anti-immigration system is to get jobs that file work permits and h1b visas. “Other jobs still file green cards after six years of working I believe” Mariam explains.
If the job route doesn’t pan out, education is another avenue. “Getting a Masters degree could buy you time,” says Mariam. Jokingly, she also says marriage to an American citizen can help Nigerians beat DACA.
There is a bit of light at the end of tunnel for those affected. On January 10, 2018, Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California ordered the US government to partially resurrect the DACA program.
The effect is temporary. There are still many questions unanswered about DACA. This ruling won’t hold for long. For many Nigerians who consider themselves American, they live each day as it comes.
“America is the only place I know, and I love this country and it just hurts ’cause this country hates me and I don’t know why,” says Toyosi. Her plan is to look for a job that will sponsor her visa.
This is a strategy many Nigerians have adopted to stay in the “home of the brave and land of the free” ruled by Donald Trump.
*not her real last name