Maryland’s DACA holders are starting to receive their stimulus checks. Here’s what they’re doing with the money.

María Perales Sánchez and her three sisters crowdsourced among themselves to give their father his own version of the U.S. stimulus package — the economic impact payments distributed by the federal government during the pandemic. The siblings donated about $200 each from their own stimulus checks.

Sánchez, 25, received COVID-relief money as a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient, while her undocumented parent did not.


“I’m even tearing up right now that low-income folks have to do that to support their own family members that keep getting excluded,” she said. “And I know for my dad that helped him pay a month of rent that he wouldn’t otherwise have been able to pay.”

Sánchez said her stimulus checks were a godsend when her father was sick with COVID-19 last spring. She saved the rest of the money to put a down payment on a house in May.


While the American Rescue Plan, the stimulus package Congress passed in March is more inclusive than its predecessors, immigration analysts have noted that it still excludes two groups: undocumented individuals, who file their federal income taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), and their U.S.-citizen or legal-immigrant children. This excludes an estimated 237,845 people in Maryland, who are paying $674.3 million in federal, state and local taxes, and 36,000 children.

Jesus Vicuña Jr., one of the 7,560 DACA holders residing in Maryland, finally received his stimulus checks after filing his taxes independently this year. All three of his stimulus payments went into savings, and he has not touched them since.

His 11-year-old brother is a U.S. citizen, while his parents are undocumented. After filing taxes, his parents received $1,400 for their U.S.-born son, which went to groceries and rent.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vicuña was laid off from his restaurant job and remained unemployed for nine months.

His mother, the primary breadwinner, could no longer go out and clean houses. His father began making tamales for extra cash, doing contactless deliveries and selling them on the weekends in Highlandtown. Selling tamales kept the family afloat, earning them between $400 to $700 a week.

Vicuña wasn’t surprised that his mixed-status family was excluded from COVID-relief packages last year.

“I wasn’t hopeful [of] getting it, and I wasn’t counting on it at that point,” he said. “I just had to find a way to keep on living.”

During this overwhelming and stressful time, Vicuña was taking online classes at Baltimore City Community College.


“I was thinking, should I even continue with college at this point?” Vicuña said. ”It was a challenge and I’m still making it through and I graduated.”

He is working two jobs and starts classes at Coppin State University in the fall.

Monica Camacho Perez, another DACA holder residing in Baltimore, works as a paraeducator. She felt frustrated and mad when her parents, who are essential workers in construction and child care, were left out of COVID relief packages due to their undocumented status.

The CARES Act of 2020, the federal government’s initial stimulus package after the pandemic arrived, excluded over 5 million U.S. citizens and legal immigrants from about $1,200 each in stimulus payments because they were the children or spouses of undocumented immigrants.

“It made me feel guilty, like why am I the only one receiving it,” said Perez, 26.

“My dad is turning 67, and this is the age when he can retire, but he can’t because he doesn’t get any benefits,” she said. “He has arthritis and his bones hurt and he goes to work every day.”


As a 10-month employee with Baltimore City Public Schools, Perez used her first stimulus check to cover summer expenses. She used the second check to cover the $495 needed for her DACA renewal. She put the remaining money in savings for emergency purposes.

This month, U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen in Texas ruled that the DACA program was illegal and put a stop to approvals for new applicants. Those already in the program are unaffected by the ruling.

Sánchez called the decision “emblematic of how it is to live as an immigrant.”

“We literally cannot have one day to just be human,” she said. “You cannot even enjoy a Friday afternoon without having something attack, derail, impact your livelihood and that of your family.”

While Perez and Vicuña already have renewed their DACA status, Sánchez has been waiting since April for what’s known as advanced parole, a special permit to leave the country and return. She paid $650 in fees, helped by donations from friends and family, for her application.

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A graduate of Princeton University, Sánchez is doing a legal fellowship centered on the rights of migrant women at Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, an advocacy group based in Mexico City and Baltimore. She helps push for policy change and improved labor conditions.


“It puts a lot of stress in terms of me being able to even carry out basic responsibilities in my job,” Sánchez said of the process as a DACA holder.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services confirmed in July that current DACA holders can continue to request and receive advance parole.

In a statement, CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres stressed that the Texas federal judge’s decision puts “jobs, education, homes, families, entire futures … on the line.”

According to the Migration Policy Institute, 19,000 people in Maryland are eligible to apply for DACA. Some are recent high school graduates who couldn’t wait to receive work authorization but have faced monthslong processing backlogs beyond their control. Nationwide, over 62,000 first-time DACA applications have been submitted since December 2020 and less than 2,000 have been processed as of this May.

“You have mixed-status families who were depending on someone’s status to be able to access more financial resources for their families, and now they’re back at square one,” Sánchez said.

Stephanie García is a 2020-21 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project, a national service program that places emerging journalists in local newsrooms. She covers issues relevant to Latino communities.