Johan Miranda is a 27-year-old stand-up comic living in L.A. Like seemingly every funny person in the city, he’s working as a driver for ride-sharing services as he tries to break into TV writing. But unlike most other aspiring comedians, he’s at risk of being immediately and seriously fucked the moment Trump steps into the Oval Office.
In 2012, President Obama created a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, allowing undocumented people who had immigrated to the U.S. as children to apply for a work permit, Social Security number and exemption from deportation. An estimated 1.76 million people were eligible for the program, and in the past four years, more than 700,000 people — Johan included — have signed up.
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump said that he’d scrap DACA on his first day in office. It’s unclear what that might actually mean for Johan, who moved to California from Peru with his family when he was three years old — Deportation to a country he never knew? A slow return to being undocumented? — but it won’t be hard for the Trump administration to enforce. Enrolling in the program meant registering with the Department of Homeland Security, which now has detailed dossiers on every person protected by DACA.
This is not good. Johan explained to MEL how he’s been dealing with all this, how DACA’s treated him so far, and what he hopes can happen — if enough people take action — between now and Inauguration Day.
Before the election, I had no anxiety over my status. I was under the impression that DACA is such a slam dunk, like, how could you be against educating people who grew up here, or letting them work here?
Maybe that was naive of me, but I honestly thought there’s no way even a Republican would repeal DACA, since it would be such an unpopular move. Obviously I was wrong about that.
When Trump won, I was devastated — I think I spent a good 48 hours awake either crying or just laying in bed. Then I was like well, I gotta get some answers quick, and I started scheduling calls with lawyers.
I literally just googled “immigration lawyers in Los Angeles” and started calling around. Most of them obviously charge a bunch for a consultation, but I was able to go to one in Koreatown that lets you talk to them without a consultation fee, and then there was an immigration fair in Long Beach that offered free consultations with attorneys. Those pro bono efforts have been really helpful, just to sit down and talk.
But nobody knows what’s going to happen.
There are just so many questions — let’s say he repeals it on his first day like he promised, does that mean all work permits and driver’s licenses are invalidated that same day? Or are they gonna wait for it to expire? Or are they gonna let the people who already have DACA stay in DACA? I’ve asked a ton of people and nobody knows, and Trump hasn’t really addressed it yet.
As we’ve seen in the past two or so weeks, he’s been going back on his promises, so I remain optimistic that if we build up the pressure, maybe Trump will change his mind and not repeal DACA. It’s such a weird time.
I’m trying to remain hopeful but also prepare for the worst.
Right now I have two goals — my personal goal is just self-preservation, trying to see how I can survive the next four years without a work permit and without a driver’s license. My other goal right now is trying to raise awareness of the situation right this moment, because I feel like if there’s any chance we can pressure Trump into changing his mind about DACA, I think it’s worth taking.
I’m actually the only one left in my family that’s undocumented — my older brother got married to a citizen, and he petitioned for my parents to become permanent residents. But I’m still in kind of in a lucky situation, because I have a support system, I have friends who have been reaching out to me and helping me and will be there for me if DACA gets repealed.
What I am worried about is the 750,000 DACA recipients who are also going through this — a lot of them probably don’t have that support system, and will probably have to return to a life in the shadows.
I’m starting to look back at the day DACA started nostalgically, like it was really good times.
Before then, I felt stuck, like anything I could pursue was off-limits. I was born in Lima, Peru, but I moved to the Bay Area with my family when I was 3 years old, then we overstayed our tourist visa. I didn’t really notice the effects of being undocumented until I couldn’t get a driver’s license, and then when I couldn’t really get any jobs.
I learned how to cut hair from a friend who went to barber college, and started cutting my friends’ hair, but soon I realized that I’d need a fucking Social Security number to even apply for the state licensing exam. In a way that’s why I pursued stand-up comedy, because there’s no regulation — I could just go to coffee shops and do it. It got to the point where it seemed like the most reasonable thing to do, just because of my lack of options.
But with my high school ID, I was able to get a job at an Arco gas station, and ended up having to work there for five years. I couldn’t get hired anywhere else.
And on June 15, 2012 — I used to work morning shifts, so when I went in at five in the morning that day — I saw on the front page of the newspaper: Immigration Reform for Childhood Arrivals. It was incredible. I called my friends, and was like, Do you believe this?
In hindsight this is pretty funny, now that Trump has everything about me on file. A lot of them who were undocumented were like “No way, I’m not gonna give the government my information.” I was the one who was like “Nah, trust the government, it’ll be fine, trust the system.”
DACA made everything I set out to do, everything I wanted to do, seem possible. I’ve been doing standup for six years now—just moved to LA in January of last year—and now I’m working on a new show with John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, two of the writers behind Silicon Valley. I’ve got my own place now, and to help pay the rent, I’m driving Uber and Lyft and doing delivery for Postmates — none of that would have happened without a Social Security number.
It’s funny, before the election, I was in the middle of working on a really funny bit about Titanic. That was my focus: writing a joke about Titanic. Now I’m like, I can’t not talk about the biggest thing on my mind right now, so I’ve been doing my best to write about that in a funny way.
Before any of this happened, the show I’ve been working on is about the perspective of being undocumented, because you don’t really see a human face being put to it that much. The typical discussion about undocumented people is one of extremes — either they’re here to take our jobs, they’re rapists, they’re criminals, or they’re hardworking people, they just want to keep their heads low and be model citizens and do no wrong.
I understand why that positive narrative exists, but that’s not representative of my friends. In my experience undocumented people aren’t good or bad; they’re just average people figuring out their way in life. If I was to give you a list of things that define me, undocumented would be close to last, it doesn’t really say that much about who I am. But unfortunately it’s been something that’s defined my life.
Now, two weeks after the election, a lot of people are asking: What can we do now? And what I want to bring to that dialogue is: Well we can do this, specifically. We can try to pressure Trump to not repeal DACA. We have at least two months to try to do that.
—As told to Sam Dean