FAIRMONT CITY, Ill. – Leaders in Washington are still deciding the future of a program that allows young, undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S.
Meanwhile, recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, wait for an uncertain future.
Germain Martinez Garcia tries not to let the daily headlines affect him too much.
“I have to try — for the community — I can’t have any negative thoughts in my mind. It doesn’t allow me to do my job like it should be done,” he said.
Martinez is a DACA recipient, himself. He was brought into the U.S. without documentation when he was only 6, and grew up in southern Illinois. Now, he is a local police officer on the force in Fairmont City, Illinois.
The department hired him about two years ago to complete the police academy. He has been patrolling the streets for about nine months.
“I love helping people, interacting with people, and just the community — I really enjoy the community,” he said.
“What we try to do here is make the police department look like the faces of the people in the community,” said Fairmont City Police Chief, Scott Penny. “Fairmont City is approximately 70 percent Hispanic population.
Penny met Martinez when the officer was just an intern and said he recognized potential. Not familiar with the DACA program enough to know if he could hire Martinez, Chief Penny started making phone calls around the state. Eventually, he found information in Chicago’s Police Department.
“We checked to see what the city of Chicago Police Department did with residency. They had language in their personnel code, that allowed someone lawfully in the U.S. to work as a police officer – and that point we felt we were good to go,” he said.
Chief Penny said, with DACA, Martinez was allowed by law to work and have a driver’s license. The chief was impressed by his performance in the police academy and his two-year college degree, as well as the officer’s skills in the field.
“He interacts well with the people we have here. They have a common heritage, he shares that with them,” Penny said. “He’s got empathy and understands the people in the community and provides help for that every time he can do so. For our purposes here, that’s a very valuable commodity for a police officer.”
Asked how he responds to critics of the DACA program, and the current political climate around immigration issues, Chief Penny said he simply sees Officer Martinez as a good employee and a friend.
“He’s a part of our community, he’s a good citizen, he’s a good person, and he does a good job for our department and we need him,” Penny said. “We’re stronger with him here, than we are with him gone.”
Officer Martinez’s DACA eligibility expires later this year, but he hopes to remain on the police force as long as possible.
“A lot of people that have DACA—they just want to work,” he said. “We’re here to educate ourselves and we just want to be the best we can be just like everybody else is trying to do.”