National DACA debate creates uncertain future for local 'Dreamers'

About 15,000 DACA program participants live in Virginia

By Brittny McGraw - Anchor

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - The national debate about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, is having an impact on local "Dreamers" living in Southwest Virginia.

Eli Salgado is an active part of the Martinsville and Henry County community, and has lived in the area since his family brought him from Mexico when he was 4.

"This is the only place I've known for the past 24 years," Salgado said.

Salgado graduated from Bassett High School and Patrick Henry Community College and hopes to finish his bachelor's degree soon. He said that could change if the government can't reach a long-term DACA deal.

"It’s nerve-racking, and at the same time filled with heartache because I’m trying to figure out what my future’s going to look like," Salgado said. "The plans that I’ve already made, I’m going to have to adjust them."

Salgado said life before DACA was challenging, because of the constant threat of being detained and possibly deported.

"My senior year, when all of my friends were basically looking forward to college and the military, I basically knew I didn't have that opportunity," he said.

Salgado is one of approximately 15,000 "Dreamers" in Virginia. Rachel Thompson, an immigration attorney with Poarch Law Firm in Salem, said it's an uncertain time for everyone.

"Whether it is DACA or any kind of immigration, we've just seen a big challenge," Thompson said. "It's been hard to really talk to our clients and put them at ease because it's been a tough time."

"I know many 'Dreamers' are devastated because, for them, they can’t accept that to return to a country that they don’t know," Salgado said. "It’s hard for so many people, emotionally."

Some DACA opponents feel the legislation was an overreach of executive power.  Others have described it as amnesty for undocumented immigrants.

Salgado said immigration reform has been an issue for decades.

"This has always been a political issue, every election," Salgado said. "So for them to now say it’s this party’s fault, or this person’s fault, everybody has a blame in it because they’ve had time to work on it." 

Salgado said he wants everyone to become better informed about what DACA is and how it affects the country. He said he works to make sure immigrants know their rights, as well as educational opportunities that are available.  

"The country has a lot to benefit from solving this issue and making sure these people are given a second chance to come out of the shadows," Salgado said. 

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