Stripped of protections offered by a just-ended federal program for young, undocumented immigrants, about a dozen of them sat in the Mexican consulate in downtown Seattle waiting to hear what their country of birth could offer them.
A week before, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, acting at the behest of President Donald Trump, had cast the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as an impediment to the rule of law. By authorizing immigrants brought here illegally as children to live and work in the U.S., the program had also “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans,” he said.
Now, Mexican Undersecretary for North America Carlos Sada was in Seattle with a very different message, one he had just delivered in Los Angeles as well. “We receive the DACA people with open arms,” he said in an interview shortly before meeting with young immigrants invited to the consulate Wednesday.
Mexican businesses are interested in hiring them, he elaborated. “They are talented, most of them have university degrees and most of them, they do speak English fluently.”
Just one day after Sessions’ speech, a chamber-of-commerce-like group in Mexico’s western state of Jalisco announced that 89 percent of its 1,500 affiliated companies were hiringand could use Dreamers.
Offer to return
The overtures offer a prospect to approximately 800,000 DACA recipients around the country that some are cautiously exploring: going back to Mexico.
“I want to consider it realistically,” said Faride Cuevas, in the consulate’s upstairs lobby. “What would that look like?”
The 24-year-old legislative assistant to King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who studied business at the University of Washington, wondered whether she might work for an international company with ties to both Mexico and the U.S.
But she and others had questions, lots of them.
“I want to see what the concrete plan is,” said Paúl Quiñonez Figueroa, a legislative assistant to state Rep. Shelley Kloba and an organizer with the Washington Dream Coalition.
“We didn’t migrate by choice,” he said. A lack of economic opportunities had driven his parents to bring him and his brother to the U.S. when he was 7.
“What have they done to the change the country?” he asked. And how will they help reintegrate people like him?
Studying in Mexico last year, he had heard of onetime immigrants to the U.S. who had returned and were having a hard time adjusting.
A news release issued this month by Otros Dreams en Acción, which advocates for returnees, made the point more bleakly. “As undocumented immigrants who have experienced deportation personally or within our families over the last 10 years, we know firsthand that Mexico is not prepared to receive a new wave of young people and their families.”
The release referred to violence and lack of educational opportunities, among other concerns — also detailed in a recent book, “Los Otros Dreamers,” and film project.
When he arrived in the consulate’s lobby, Sada, accompanied by Consul Roberto Dondisch, offered reassurance. In Spanish, he said Mexico, despite abundant criticism, was a rich country. It had transformed.
And it is taking steps to help Dreamers return, Sada said. Their American degrees will be validated automatically. The government is compiling a list of jobs for which they might apply.
A dad of two Dreamers, there along with the younger immigrants, questioned how welcoming most Mexicans would really be. He had gone back for a time and found he was discriminated against by his own people, he told Sada.
Yes, Sada admitted, he has heard of resentment against returnees. “They were the ones who left Mexico,” he said people complain.
Miguel Duncan-Galvez Bravo, who came to the U.S. when he was 2, made a point by speaking up in English — the language, he said, in which he feels most comfortable expressing his thoughts.
Returning to Mexico, he said, “I would be struggling.”
Why doesn’t Mexico create jobs within its own government for DACA recipients? he asked.
Sada, answering in Spanish, sidestepped the question of government jobs, but said the government intended to set up language classes for Dreamers.
“I know they’re trying to help,” Duncan-Galvez Bravo said after the meeting.
Yet the 29-year-old remained skeptical that Mexico was a viable option. He said he has seen job openings aimed at returnees and they were all in the retail and tourist industries, which would make no use of his education and experience.
He has a master’s degree in diplomacy and military studies from California State University, Northridge. Since graduating, he has worked at nonprofits, most recently as a fundraiser and development manager for Entre Hermanos, an organization supporting LGBTQ Latinos.
Adding to the complication is his husband, an American citizen from Arkansas who speaks no Spanish. “What assistance is there for him?” Duncan-Galvez Bravo asked.
Others were similarly wary, saying they were hoping for far more specific information from Sada. Cuevas slipped off to work, mid-meeting.
“Not at all,” she said, when asked if she heard what she was looking for.
To be fair, Sada had a high bar to meet. As he told the DACA recipients in the meeting, he knows the vast majority want to remain in the U.S. That’s why he said the Mexican government is lobbying for a congressional fix for Dreamers.
Trump’s talks with Democrats on the subject over the past week make that seem increasingly possible.
What he wanted, Sada said, was for Dreamers to be able to come back to Mexico on their own terms.
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