A Conversation With NILC’s Policy Associate, Diana Pliego, on DACA

DACA Diana Pliego BELatina Latinx
Image courtesy of NILC.

We’ve recently commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. While we celebrate what the program brings, we must also continue the fight for a pathway to permanent citizenship. And that’s precisely what Diana Pliego, Policy Associate at the National Immigration Law Center, is doing.

For DACA’s decade anniversary, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) brought back its #ImmigrantsAreEssential art installation to the Capitol Lawn. 

During the campaign on June 15, Pliego also talked to the media about her first-hand perspective on the urgency of immigration reform.

While the DACA program allowed over 800,000 individuals to work legally, there’s so much more left to resolve. For instance, permanent residency for all immigrants and the protection of our community.

In a recent conversation with Pliego, we talked to her about her visit with President Biden a year ago regarding DACA, the ideal pathway to citizenship, and what she advises other Latines on how to get involved in the political movement.

This is how the conversation unfolded.

The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Let’s start from the beginning. When’d you get involved in political action?

I’ve always kind of followed the politics on immigration reform because I come from a family and grew up undocumented. But it wasn’t until I went to a private college welcoming undocumented students that I started working with them and a local community organizer that I realized I didn’t have just to watch the news. I could be a part of pushing for the change I wanted to see for myself and my community.

You met President Biden a year ago about the need for a pathway to citizenship. How’d that go? What are the points he made about DACA?

Yeah, that was a really great moment. He made his promises of fighting for us. But it was also right on the verge of when we had learned that there were, I think, over 80,000 DACA recipients or DACA eligible folks who didn’t get to receive their DACA because the administration USCIS was so backlogged. They didn’t get to process their applications in time before the system came down in Texas and blocked them from getting adjudicated.

So it was a timely experience to continue to advocate for maintaining DACA and what we’ve been calling for, which is permanent protection. The pathway to citizenship that they all want. I’ve been here since I was three, and I think by now, I should at the very least be on that pathway to my citizenship.

What’s the ideal but realistic pathway to citizenship from your perspective?

There are always so many different bills introduced. At the National Immigration Law Center, being an advocate there, we have been pointing to the Dream and Promise Act that has passed the House of Representatives twice. We don’t know exactly what the final bill will look like when it passes. But one thing we are looking for is a bill that provides the protections that we need but at the same time does not harm our community.

Do you know anything regarding DACA first-time applicants?

Right now, we are moving to get more of a solution for those folks who didn’t get to have their applications adjudicated. We have a hearing coming up now in July. And we are looking for relief for those folks as well. So I would say definitely just stay tuned. We hope to have good news for those folks. But we’re fighting on all fronts in the courts. And I think ultimately right on the legislative front, which is what we really want.

What can you tell us about the #ImmigrantsAreEssential campaign?

It’s actually made up of whiteboards. I think it’s pretty creative. With the hashtag “immigrants are essential.” Folks can go up and write on the board and show their solidarity. And the backdrop to it is the capital, which is really symbolic. It’s Congress that we need to recognize that immigrants are essential.

It’s a campaign to highlight that during the pandemic, not just in our country but globally. And one of the things that it’s shown us here in the U.S. is that there are so many people we’ve labeled essential workers, and many of those folks have been immigrants long before there was ever a pandemic.

And immigrants have been a crucial part of keeping this country afloat through the pandemic and before and beyond. Immigrants are essential to this country and who we are. So it’s a way to uplift that message and to remind folks that we need the recognition, acknowledgment, and path to citizenship, ultimately not just for myself. Still, they call us Dreamers, immigrant youth, whatever they want. We are looking for a pathway to citizenship ultimately for our entire community.

What do you advise the Latino community on how to get involved in DACA and immigration reform?

Obviously, at the national level, I think it gets a lot of attention, but a lot of the work really starts on the ground and happens on the ground. If you’re on a campus, maybe look to see if there’s a Latino organization that might be working on immigration issues, see what kind of organizations are in your community, in your city, maybe at the state level that you can get plugged into. If there isn’t an organization on your campus, if there isn’t an organization that’s active in your community, maybe connect with some other folks who are interested and start one.

You can help expand where those organizations have reached to ensure that your community also influences whatever they’re advocating for at the state and national levels. So a quick Google search will do that. But there are tons of great partners across the country doing incredible work that would love to have you join and support.

Anything else you’d like to include?

This is just a reminder to folks that this does not go away for those of us who have DACA or might be waiting on getting their DACA but are stuck in limbo due to the courts. It’s an ever-present issue in our hands, and it’s under attack right now. And we cannot wait until something happens to DACA. My final message to people would be to get involved and just help us up with the message to Congress that they need to act. It’s been time to act, and we need them to join us on the call for a permanent solution in the pathway to citizenship.