It is somewhat ironic that an individual who has earned a master's degree in public administration and has obtained a leadership position in the management of an American city basically lives in the shadow of deportation to a country he can scarcely remember.

The long range of a politically-charged action could ultimately reach out and touch Ernestor De La Rosa, who is currently the interim director of human resources for Dodge City, and formerly Dodge City's assistant finance director.

Should President Donald Trump maintain his administration's directive to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals on March 5, De La Rosa could find himself out of a job - and possibly out of the only country he's really known.

"I'm happy to be here," he said. "I'm happy to contribute to my community. In a small city government you can see the difference you can make."

De La Rosa is one of millions of immigrants who were brought to the country as minors by their parents. These individuals arrived not of their own choosing, but having been raised and educated in America, deeply desire to remain and be legitimized legally. DACA seemed to be the solution for a population in limbo, until President Trump announced his intention to end the program and expose them to the potential life-altering fallout.

DACA allowed De La Rosa to remain in the country and work for a good education, which he has used to position himself in local government and try to make a difference in his community.

"I'm just happy to work in a position where whether it's economic development or human resources or transportation, I can see the end result and the impact it has on the community,” he said. “I’m just glad for that opportunity."

He has become an advocate for immigration reform and, since Trump's announcement, a voice rallying others to the cause of saving DACA.

"It's a huge deal for a lot of young people," De La Rosa said. "It obviously allows you to work legally but it protects you from possible deportation."

DACA brings these young people out of the shadow and legitimizes their lives, according to De La Rosa.

"You have the opportunity to get your drivers license and exercise your career and provide for your family," he said. "If they take that away from us we don't have that option."

De La Rosa wears more than the HR hat for Dodge City. He works as an assistant to City Manager Cherise Tieben, navigating legislative issues the city is presented with, and making informed policy proposals. Tieben said that in addition to De La Rosa’s skills, she values the unique perspective he brings to city government.

“He makes strong recommendations,” she said. “He weighs all sides. He’s very impressive for someone just 4 or 5 years out of college.”

The young people covered under DACA are establishing lives and families, and becoming part of the culture and society into which they were brought. De La Rosa sees the push to repeal DACA as potentially ruining the lives of millions of people who feel this is their home country.

"The reality for a lot of individuals is they will be out of work and unable to feed their family," he said. "If they simply get pulled over they could be arrested because their drivers license is suddenly invalid. Then (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) can show up and tell you that you're up for deportation even though your entire family is here and some of them naturalized citizens. So there is a lot of fear."

Tieben said employing De La Rosa and individuals like him helps the city government be more reflective of, and responsive to the community. She said De La Rosa and his skill set are an effective bridge to the the Hispanic population.

“He’s done an amazing job filling the gap for us with the Hispanic culture,” Tieben said. “They seem to have a lot of trust in him when they don’t have a common trust in government because of the major distrust of government in Mexico.”

De La Rosa's parents decided to leave Mexico in 2002. An uncle who was a naturalized citizen had petitioned for permanent residency for the family and they were eventually granted a 10-year visitor visa.

His parents traveled back and forth from Mexico for a time in order to renew their visitor visas and petitioned for permanent residency.

The gears of the citizenship machine ground typically slowly and the clock on the family's visa period ticked away. Mandatory waiting periods and massive paperwork backlogs can mean the process for simply obtaining permanent residency - let alone actual citizenship - can take 20 years.

By 2011, after nearly a decade of living and working in the country legally, and despite jumping through the designated hoops, the family's visas expired.

"We were at a spot where we didn't have our visitor visas and we weren't receiving anything from the (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) on where our case was,” De La Rosa said.

"In our minds that was going to be 5 to 7 years and before the time our visa expired we would be on green card status. That wasn't the case obviously."

Eventually, De La Rosa's older brother married a US citizen and petitioned for his citizenship. He was thus able to help his parents get their citizenship but by this time Ernestor was over the age of 21 and ineligible to be naturalized through his parents.

Stripped of any legal status, De La Rosa was ineligible for college grants and loans from the federal government. The primary reason his parents brought him to America was for him to be able to get a quality education. He worked his way through college, toiling away at restaurants and hotels, industries that are historically more accommodating to undocumented workers.

"I went through college with fear," De La Rosa said. "I knew I didn't have the authorization to work but I still needed to work to pay for college."

After studying pre-law at Dodge City Community College and earning his bachelor's from Fort Hays State, De La Rosa earned his master's degree in public administration from Wichita State.

The DACA order was a godsend for De La Rosa and the estimated 800,000 people who have ultimately registered for the program, instituted by President Barack Obama's administration in 2012. After petitioning for the DACA program, De La Rosa had legal status to remain in the country without fear of deportation and could work legally.

Much of DACA's effect is stabilization of lives. Despite being brought to America as minors, following parents and families like any other child would, these individuals now face a dubious existence on a daily basis.
  "It's so much uncertainty," De La Rosa said. "One day I am sitting here working and the next day I could be unemployed and possibly face deportation to a country I know nothing about."

Tieben said city staff is well aware of the ramifications of potential DACA repeal. Should he be unable to register under the program the city would be forced to terminate his employment.

“We really hope we can keep him here in the community,” she said. “It’s invaluable to find someone with bilingual skills and a master’s in public administration is incredibly difficult. He is a product of Dodge City and the education system, went off to Fort Hays and WSU and came back to Dodge. And that’s rare, so if he can resolve the immigration issue I can certainly see him having a long career in public administration. I could see him sitting in my chair in a few years.”

Proponents of the policy such as Congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts have said that the most troubling aspect of DACA repeal is that it reduces the lives of millions to political pawns. An individual is declared legal by the government when one party is in power, then political winds change and they are declared persona non grata.

“The DREAMERS are people like me and you and our kids,” he said in a Sept. 2017 speech. “They deserve better from us. Stop screwing around with their lives.”

While immigration laws have certainly been changed at times, the laws have encompassed people who willing and knowingly entered the country - not those who were minors brought to America by their families.

"Most of us were basically raised here," De La Rosa said. "We know English. We feel like part of the culture. We went to school here and think of this as our home and country. So to throw us away and say we don't belong here... it's a lot to deal with. We don't really belong in the country we were born in, either."

Like other DACA participants, De La Rosa has undergone background checks and met all the requirements - including a $495 application fee every 2 years - to establish his legal residency. Now there is a possibility of those points being made moot with the stroke of a pen.

"The government told us what we needed to do and we did just what we were suppose to," he said. "Now they're telling us they want to do away with their own program, and we won't be able to work, or get a drivers license and probably risk being deported."

DACA has always been essentially a stopgap policy that doesn't really provide a permanent solution. While he advocates for a pathway to citizenship and a simpler, more streamlined immigration process, he says most DACA participants simply long for stability. De La Rosa said they merely want to continue the life they have known since they were children.

"We just want that certainty," he said. "We want to be recognized as residents of this nation and nothing more than be with our families and give back to this country."

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