The clock is ticking for Joel Lemus, a young school counselor at Crete High School whose future is in doubt.

Lemus grew up in Nebraska, went to high school in Schuyler, earned undergraduate and master's degrees at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and has "fallen in love with Crete, this school and its students."

"This," he says, "has been my life."

But Lemus is in jeopardy of losing it all and having his life upended and disrupted now.

Lemus, 31, is a DACA recipient, one of the so-called young immigrant Dreamers who dream of being able to remain in this country where they grew up, went to school, formed their friendships, framed their futures and built their lives.

But he was brought to this country as a child when his parents crossed the border from Mexico illegally, and President Donald Trump has declared an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive action taken by former President Barack Obama.

The Obama directive granted legal presence in the United States for those young immigrants who were brought into the country as babies or young children when their parents or other adults entered illegally.

Trump's order takes effect on March 5, giving Congress time to enact a permanent solution to the DACA issue before permits to stay in the United States begin to expire at a rate of nearly a thousand per day.

Some legislators are determined to get it done before the end of the year by using leverage they now may have as Congress gropes for agreement on a year-end government spending bill.

And some supporters believe a solution is essential prior to the advent of a contentious election year.

The dream is a pathway to permanent legal status and eventually to U.S. citizenship.

Lemus was one of several DACA recipients who went to Washington last week to talk with members of Nebraska's congressional delegation. Most of the senators and congressmen provided only access to staff, although Lemus and others were able to speak briefly with Rep. Don Bacon, the Omaha-district congressman whom Lemus described as "super nice."

"We went to DC to share our stories," Lemus said.

Lemus was born in Mexico after his pregnant mother and father, who had been working in California, returned to live in Monterrey.

"Made in the USA, born in Mexico," Lemus likes to say.

Lemus returned to the United States with his parents when he was about 7, lived in California for a year or so, and has been living in Nebraska since he was 8 or 9.

"Schuyler is my hometown," he said.

"We're your neighbors, your kids' counselors and teachers," Lemus said.

"And the proposed new Dream Act would allow good people to stay and continue giving back to the communities we care about."

DACA recipients pay taxes, follow the law and contribute to society, Lemus said, and are "just as American as anybody else."

Nebraska counts about 3,300 "Dreamers" and there are nearly 700,000 living in the United States.

At Crete, Lemus is the sponsor of a leadership development team for seniors, one of the soccer coaches and sponsor of multicultural events as well as being a student counselor.

"It's kind of a perfect fit for me," he said, with "lots of relationships and friendships with a lot of great families."

Now, with the clock ticking, Lemus said he and his wife are "starting to have the conversation" about what they would do if DACA disappears and is not replaced.

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"I'm eligible to stay until August of next year," he said.

"If nothing happens, we would then look to go to Mexico. Perhaps Monterrey, although I don't have family there. Just a couple of relatives I don't really know."

"But this really isn't about me," Lemus said.

"I have two degrees from this country; I'm bilingual.

"It's more about other people who have been doing the right things. Paying taxes. Living moral and ethical lives.

"They have all the qualities we want in our neighbors.  They're not here to cause harm. They just want to improve their lives and their families' lives and better our community.

"And this country can benefit so much from them being here."

Dr. Bret Schroder, director of curriculum for the Crete Public Schools, says there is no way he can adequately describe Lemus' value to the Crete schools and their students.

"Joel represents the positives about our country and our community," he said.

"Joel is a role model for our kids," Schroder said, providing them with "a belief that they can do anything they want to do" if they work hard.

"It is just unthinkable" to imagine losing him, he said.

"He's a great employee and a great person; he makes our school system stronger and better.

"We want him to stay. Joel is extremely important to our high school."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.


Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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