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Maxwell Street Legal Clinic helps DACA recipient reconnect with family

Updated: Mar 28

Across Kentucky, more than 2,000 young adults have been living their lives in limbo for decades. Recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) were brought to the United States as children and grew up in the country, U.S. citizens in all but name. Since 2012 these young adults, also known as Dreamers, have been able to apply for immigration protection for the first time through the DACA program. However, DACA is far from secure — their status must be renewed every two years, does not provide a pathway to U.S. citizenship, and, in recent years, the program has been under ever-increasing threat of being dismantled altogether.

DACA recipients are also unable to travel freely: if they leave the United States without permission, they’re not allowed to come back. However, in select circumstances, the federal government can grant DACA recipients permission to briefly leave the country for urgent humanitarian reasons.

Recently, Maxwell Street Legal Clinic (MSLC) helped one such DACA recipient, Ernesto, apply to travel to Mexico to see his ailing grandmother. His grandmother is 92 years old, and he hadn’t seen her in more than 20 years, since before he came to the United States. When Ernesto finally made it to his hometown and was able to see his grandmother, he said that he was “overwhelmed.” He wasn’t sure if his grandmother would recognize him, but when he entered the room, “she got up and said, ‘Ernesto, mijo.’ She gave me a big hug, and we cried.”

Over the next several days Ernesto was able to spend time with his grandmother and extended family who he hadn’t seen in years. His grandmother took him to eat at a restaurant his uncle owned, and they attended a family get-together where everyone told stories about Ernesto and his family. “Grandma was happy and smiling the whole time,” he said, “it was great.”

After Ernesto returned to the United States, he was able to apply for permanent residency in the United States for the first time through his U.S. citizen spouse. Receiving permanent status in the United States “has been a goal for a long time,” he says. “At one point, I gave up on it and didn’t think that I was ever going to be able to do it.” But with the help of Maxwell Street, he was finally able to achieve this goal. He is currently waiting for a response on his green card application.

Ernesto now wants to travel again in the future with his wife and children so they can see his hometown and meet his family. He said that traveling back to his home country was “exciting and scary,” but that the opportunity to see his grandma was amazing. To other DACA recipients who are thinking about applying to travel, he says, “Don’t think about it. If you’re able to, just do it.”


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