DACA Renewal Delays Forcing ‘Hadestown’ Actor To Temporarily Leave Show Highlights Continued Need To Pass Permanent Relief

DACA Renewal Delays Forcing ‘Hadestown’ Actor To Temporarily Leave Show Highlights Continued Need To Pass Permanent Relief

Editorial credit: Christopher Penler / Shutterstock.com

By Gabe Ortiz | America’s Voice

The recent saga around actor J. Antonio Rodriguez’s abrupt departure from his hit musical production shines an important light on the continued need for permanent relief for 600,000 immigrants protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Last month, Rodriguez had to withdraw from the “Hadestown” musical, which is currently touring the country and features the actor in a leading role. “But this was no standard departure,” as Playbill noted. Rodriguez’s authorization to work had expired following months of processing delays, forcing him to temporarily pull out from the show. “He is not alone,” Playbill continued.

“It’s been reported that due to the current backlog of immigration cases, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has delayed processing DACA applications,” the report said. “The agency has reported that renewals are being processed at an average rate of two months—though reports of longer wait times are increasing.” During a recent hearing, Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) noted that some DACA recipients have waited as long as five months for their renewals to be processed.

“Nevada is home to thousands of DACA recipients – Dreamers who know no other home than the U.S. and they’re contributing to our community every single day,” Senator Rosen said. “But, due to significant delays in processing times, their applications to renew their work permits, well they’re just taking longer than usual – putting at risk their ability to work [and] provide for their families.”

Which is exactly what happened to Rodriguez, who arrived to the U.S. from Mexico when he was just two. While he remained under the “Hadestown” contract and could continue traveling with his colleagues, he was legally blocked from working, at great detriment to his mental well-being. “My biggest fear is not being here anymore, which has created a lot of anxiety within me,” he told Playbill.

“I’m a strong advocate for mental health, especially among men of color,” he continued. “About a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I always thought it was ADHD, but it turned out to be severe anxiety. I attribute much of this to being a Dreamer and undocumented. The uncertainty and fear are overwhelming. Even now, speaking out, I feel a sense of shame for not having done so sooner, but the fear is paralyzing.”

Earlier this month, Rodriguez finally received the good news he’d been hoping for: his DACA had been renewed, and he would return to the stage. But the fears from the weeks of uncertainty haven’t been so easily assuaged. “I was lucky for it to get approved today,” he told Spectrum News. “What’s going to happen in two years? What’s going to happen tomorrow?”

While the program is essential to the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients, and the federal government must ensure that all renewal applications are processed in a timely manner, what young immigrants ultimately need is permanent relief. He noted that many otherwise eligible immigrants aren’t even allowed to submit first-time DACA applications due to litigation led by Texas.

Following news that his DACA had been renewed, Rodriguez reiterated his strong connection to Orpheus, the character he portrays in the show. “His character description as a dreamer and his experiences throughout the show reflect my own experience as a DREAMer. The message conveyed at the end of the show that ‘we’re going to sing it anyway’ resonates with me deeply. It is a reminder to try and keep moving forward despite the challenges we face.”

Rodriguez’s rise to the stage is just one of hundreds of thousands of success stories under the DACA program. Key findings from an annual survey of DACA beneficiaries revealed that more than nine out of ten respondents are employed. “This represents a significant jump over the past years, even when compared with pre-pandemic levels; the 2019 survey showed that 89.2 percent of respondents were employed,” researchers said.

Their contributions are also vast. Past CAP research found that DACA recipients contribute nearly $2.1 billion to Social Security and Medicare annually. “In addition, their employers contributed more than $1.6 billion in payroll taxes toward Social Security and Medicare on these DACA recipients’ behalf.” DACA recipients have also outpaced U.S.-born Americans when opening a business. Christian Serrano, a DACA recipient from Texas, started a home design and construction business to support his family. Through hard work and sweat, he now has more than a dozen employees.

“Even though my application was resolved, there are still 600,000 with similar stories who are in the same predicament,” Rodriguez continued in Playbill. “I’m going to continue to fight for a pathway to citizenship and urge everybody to make their voices be heard – to your communities, friends, and politicians. I know firsthand how powerful the fear of speaking out can be, but we must continue to fight.” Read more on the actor’s personal story here.

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