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‘Deferred Action’ Drama: Timely And Now On Tour

by Jerome Weeks 11 Sep 2017 4:43 PM

President Trump’s decision last week to rescind DACA or Deferred Action for the children of undocumented immigrants has made a local stage drama incredibly timely. The play, called ‘Deferred Action,’ premiered last year in Dallas from Cara Mia Theatre and the Dallas Theater Center.  Now, it’s going on tour – to Denton, Houston and Los Angeles.

In a TV talk show scene in the stage play ‘Deferred Action, ’ a young immigration activist named Javier is on the panel with a Republican representative and a female Democrat. Javier’s parents brought him to the US as a child – he’s a so-called DREAMer, protected from being deported under DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. But he wants real change, not the limited status he gets from DACA. So that pits Javier against both the Republican and Democrat.

Maya Malan-Gonzalez, Ivan Jasso, Liz Magallanes, David Zaldívar in Cara Mia Theatre

Maya Malan-Gonzalez, Ivan Jasso, Liz Magallanes and, David Zaldívar in Cara Mia Theatre’s ‘Deferred Action.’ Photo: Linda Blase

‘Deferred Action’ plays at SMU’s Bob Hope Theatre Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 14th-17th. Then it opens at UNT’s University Theater Sept. 22nd

Republican representative: Deferred Action is just a written excuse to turn a blind eye to people breaking the law.

Javier: I agree with him

Democratic representative: But you can go to work, go to college without fear of deportation.

Javier: Sure – until they elect someone else and they throw it out. The time for Deferred Action is over. It’s time for real legislation.

Sounds like a play that was written straight from last week’s headlines. President Trump is killing Deferred Action and he told Congress it’s their job to come up with a solution for undocumented immigrants. But playwrights David Lozano and Lee Trull actually wrote that scene three years ago. Cara Mia Theatre and the Dallas Theater Center premiered ‘Deferred Action’ last year. Lozano is artistic director of Cara Mia.

“The play still resonates,” he says, “because we’re still looking at DREAMers livnig with Deferred Action. And deferred action essentially means deferred deportation.”

This week, Lozano starts a regional tour of ‘Deferred Action.’ It opens at SMU, then travels to Denton, Houston and Los Angeles. Lozano says the tour has been a lot for his small, 21-year-old company to pull off.

“So far,” he says, “this is the largest project Cara Mia has ever undertaken.”

Jose Manuel Santoyo

Jose Manuel Santoyo. Photo: Jerome Weeks

On tour, ‘Deferred Action’ may get attention because it is so timely. But it’s timely mostly because it deals with one of Washington’s most persistent political logjams.

“It talks about the political games that our Congressional representatives play with human lives – as we’ve seen with nobody wanting to take action on an immigration reform bill for so many years,” says Jose Manuel Santoyo. Santoyo is Cara Mia’s head of marketing. He’s 25 years old, has lived in the US for 16 years and has graduated from SMU.

DACA never granted Santoyo US citizenship, but as he notes, “DACA gave us a work permit, it gave us a driver’s license and it gave us a Social Security Number. And that allowed me to start a career in not only public service and politics but also now the arts.”

But all of that could –just  go away.  DACA was set up as a temporary measure. It requires people to re-apply for legal status every two years. But over the next six months, the Trump administration will wind down those renewals. After that, all the DREAMers could be deported.

Says Santoyo: “We always knew from the beginning that this program wasn’t permanent. But we never expected it to end the way that it did, through this administration.”


David Lozano. Photo: Jerome Weeks

Lozano says this ticking clock, this legal limbo,  was what originally interested him in the DREAMers as a subject for a trilogy of plays (the first was called The Dreamers: A Bloodline‘ – and followed the DREAMers’ parents as they fled from violence and exploitation, heading north into the US.)

“I had been looking at the DREAMers’ frustrations with Congress’ inability to pass reform,” says Lozano, “beginning with the failed DREAM Act in 2010, when Democratic representatives voted against it. That was a crushing blow to the movement.”

For a dramatic complication, Lozano and Trull invented a presidential candidate, a conservative Republican who flips his agenda and argues for immigration reform. That leaves Javier, our young DREAMer activist, with a serious dilemma. Does he support a Democrat who’s taken the Latino vote for granted? Or does he support a Republican whose other stands he finds appalling but who could actually deliver full citizenship?

Of course, in real life, Donald Trump won the presidency attacking immigrants, calling many of them rapists, demanding a wall be built along the border. Every Republican candidate who actually proposed some form of immigration reform – Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John McCain – was shoved to the side. So the dramatic dilemma in ‘Deferred Action’ began looking … pretty improbable.

Until Trump’s announcement last week.  Now some Senate Republicans in Congress are even talking about dusting off the DREAM Act And Cara Mia’s drama has gained some pointed relevance. .

Liz Magallanes

Liz Magallanes. Photo: Jerome Weeks

Liz Magallanes is an actor in Deferred Action and a DREAMER activist. “I’m excited to see the new, whole other dimension added to this,” she says. “And really excited for people to see that this is how change happens and a lot of times it’s not clean-cut and sometimes you have to make hard choices.”

Says Lozano: “When I saw our first run-through, I really thought this play has muscle.  This cast is really inspired. They want to speak to the political moment.” 

And that political moment, as they’ve seen, can be a moving target.