Despite an Uncertain Future, DACA Law Student Continues to Help Others in Oklahoma City

Javier Hernandez was brought to the United States when he was a 1-year-old. In the 24 years since, he has founded a tutoring and mentorship program for high school students in his home town of Oklahoma City; tutored college students in math; coached little league soccer; and worked as a translator for a local law firm. “My motivation was just being able to give someone else the opportunities I was given,” he says.

As a lawyer, I hope to help those in my community who have not yet found their voice.

Hernandez has used what he was given — academic and athletic determination — to dream big. He attended Mid-American Christian University on a soccer scholarship, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in math, and expects to graduate from the Oklahoma City University School of Law, where he also received a partial scholarship, in 2019. “As a lawyer, I hope to help those in my community who have not yet found their voice,” he says. “I hope to make many positive influences through my work.”

Even as he is busy finishing law school, Hernandez is preparing to work as a junior legal intern and spends his weekends helping Oklahoma residents navigate and apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a 2012 policy that provides qualifying undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children a temporary reprieve from deportation and the right to legally work in the United States.

The sad irony is that Hernandez is a DACA recipient himself, and if Congress fails to preserve it he will be far less able to put his education and skills to work in America — if he is able to do so at all. President Donald Trump has said the administration will end DACA in March, leaving it to Congress to pass a legislative solution. In Oklahoma alone, 11,672 people are already eligible to receive DACA, and more are expected to qualify as they age into the program or graduate from high school. Ninety-three percent of the DACA-eligible population 16 years old and older in Oklahoma are employed, and combined these Dreamers pay $20.3 million in taxes every year.

“When I graduate and sit for the bar exam, will I even be able to apply for a job as a lawyer?” says Hernandez. “It’s the uncertainty of what I should or shouldn’t be doing with my money. If I go out and buy a house, or a car, and then I’m eligible for deportation the next week there goes my line of credit because I have no job in the United States to pay it off.”

Despite the uncertainty, Hernandez continues to study, volunteer, and work at an Oklahoma law firm. He also looks forward to the possibility of securing a legal job someday with Kratos, a California aerospace company planning to expand its Oklahoma City facilities. Hernandez had originally wanted to become an architectural engineer, but his undocumented status had disqualified him from the federal financial aid he needed to accept an engineering scholarship.

Hernandez recently traveled to Washington, DC, with other DACA recipients to demand a clean Dream Act. And though his career in the United States remains at risk, he couldn’t help but feel empowered watching Congress at work. “Being a law student and seeing where law happens, and a DACA recipient and seeing how the law is going to affect me, it was a great eye-opener,” he says. “It was empowering to be there because our message to them is: Open your eyes and see what’s happening right in front of you.”

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…