In 2012, President Barack Obama implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) as a stroke of executive action.
The program was a reaction to the failure of the Dream Act which failed to pass several times since 2001.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, DACA was designed so that, “certain people who came to the United States as children and meet several key guidelines may request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and would then be eligible for work authorization.” DACA allows undocumented immigrants who meet certain qualifications temporary access to a work permit, driver’s license and social security number.
Tony Lopez doesn’t remember his trip to the United States just months before his second birthday, however, he remembers his first year here as a struggle.
“My dad made that sacrifice to come here and have something at least semi-stable,” said Lopez. “Just so that we could have a roof over our heads, not a big roof, but a roof.”
Growing up, Lopez recalls moments when not having his citizenship set him apart from friends and classmates.
“I remember my buddies were all getting excited at 15 to get their driver’s license and, for me, that’s the furthest thing from my mind because it just wasn’t an option,” said Lopez. “Up until very recently, things were just different.”
He began boxing when he was six years old which lead him to an amateur career totaling 70 fights with only three losses.
Vincent Reyes is Lopez’s trainer and the owner of Reyes Boxing Club in northeast Fort Worth.
“I have trained Tony for his whole amateur and professional career,” said Reyes. “He’s grown up to be the man I knew he could be.”
In February of 2012, Lopez won the regional Golden Gloves championship but was unable to advance to the state and national competitions because of his citizenship, which also prevented him from being considered as an Olympic candidate.
“As an amateur, the Olympics is the ultimate goal,” said Lopez. “It sucked because it didn’t have anything to do with us not being good enough, it was just because I didn’t have that number.”
It was a heavy blow to his team but Reyes says that he has always encouraged Tony to remain humble in victory as well as defeat.
“I always told him, even since he was a little kid, that no matter how good you are or how many national titles you may win, you always have to stay humble,” said Reyes.
Following the news of his disqualification, Lopez decided with his trainer to begin his professional career.
After 13 fights, with two losses, Lopez has signed contracts with Roy Jones Jr. Boxing Promotions and is now preparing to fight for the World Boxing Council Super-Bantamweight Championship on April 27. His training regiment is demanding, but his biggest priority is his 3-year-old son, Jedidiah.
In 2012, Lopez first applied for temporary citizenship through the DACA program.
“Once Obama released it, everyone who was in my position knew about it,” said Lopez. “We immediately started researching lawyers to begin the process.”
The program brought more than a just a relief to those looking over their shoulder, it created opportunity.
“Before that, I was graduating high school and just thinking, ‘Where can I work?,’ and ‘What happens if I get pulled over?’” he said.
His trainer says he see’s Lopez as an American, and financial obstacles are the only thing standing between him and his citizenship.
“It’s just been crazy,” said Reyes. “He’s been here since he can remember, he is an American.”
Lopez says that his life in America would make him unfit to succeed in Mexico if he were deported since he has not been to his home country since he left.
“This is my normal,” he said. “I speak Spanish but I know it’s not like it is over there and if you dropped me off in Mexico, I wouldn’t know where to go or what to do.”
President Donald Trump has recently initiated his second executive order placing restrictions on immigrants from select countries entering the United States.
How Trump plans to deal with the deferred action program remains uncertain, however, in a press conference in February, when he was asked about the initiative, he said, “We plan to deal with DACA with heart.” He continued to explain that in many cases, the recipients are “amazing kids” while other groups include, “gang members and drug dealers too.”
The temporary documentation is only valid for two years and requires recipients to reapply as every application is determined on a case by case basis. According to the Educators for Fair Consideration, 65-thousand undocumented immigrants graduate from high school each year and around 10-thousand graduate from college.
Lopez is not alone in his concern for the deferred action program and says that potential of losing his status at this point could be catastrophic for his family and many like him. He is one of many “dreamers” awaiting to see if the program will be discontinued, or remain sufficient documentation to protect against being deported or detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
This has not been the case for some, including several detained last month in Portland, a state recognized as a sanctuary city.
Trump’s Executive order mandated Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release a “weekly report that shows those jurisdictions with the highest volume of declined detainers, and includes a list of sample crimes associated with those released individuals.”
Lopez says he fears that changes to the program may affect more than his career.
“It scary to think about because I would really lose a lot,” said Lopez. “And especially because I know there are a lot of people like me who got here at just a few months or a few years old and didn’t have a say in any of this, it’s just who we are.”
Yet, his team does not allow this to distract him from his goals.
“I honestly believe he will be a world champion,” said Reyes. “He’s taken some hits but we keep moving forward… And I think he’s going to get his citizenship. Don’t ask me how, but I have faith.”