DACA Delays Force Dreamer J. Antonio Rodriguez to Stop Performing in the Hadestown Tour. But He's Not Going Underground. | Playbill

Special Features DACA Delays Force Dreamer J. Antonio Rodriguez to Stop Performing in the Hadestown Tour. But He's Not Going Underground.

The actor is currently not allowed to work in America while he awaits his application renewal. And now he's telling his story.

J. Antonio Rodriguez and cast of Hadestown T Charles Erickson

On March 13, J. Antonio Rodriguez performed his last show in the Hadestown tour as Orpheus, a production he’s been a part of since 2022. But this was no standard departure. The longtime actor didn’t want to leave; he was forced to.

Rodriguez is a Dreamer, a person who immigrated to America when they were very young; because they have no way to become a citizen, they remain undocumented. Through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Rodriguez was protected from deportation and has been able to work and pursue his dreams of being an actor. But due to a mountain of bureaucratic delays, Rodriguez’s career is now in jeopardy and he is no longer legally able to perform.

“My entire life, I've done everything right,” says the actor. “I've never broken the law. I was the valedictorian of my high school. I went to college…I'm doing this cool thing with Hadestown where I was Orpheus on the tour. It's like, you can do everything right and you can be treated like a second class person. It's just,” he pauses, searching for the word to convey his anguish over the situation before sighing, “It really sucks.”

Rodriguez’s story illustrates the current political impasse on immigration which is leaving many undocumented immigrants, including those who have lived their entire lives in America, in a state of purgatory.

The actor was born in a small town in Mexico called Francisco y Madero. Because of childhood health issues that left him frequently in and out of the hospital, his parents immigrated to America when Rodriguez was two years old to get him proper care. In Oklahoma, he was able to grow up healthy, but he was also undocumented.

Then in 2012, the DACA program was put into effect, which gave undocumented immigrants who arrived in America as children a way to attend college, work, pay taxes, and secure a driver’s license—without fear of being deported. There are currently around 600,000 DACA beneficiaries. But anyone approved for DACA needs to have their status renewed every two years. For Dreamers like Rodriguez, while the program is a temporary reprieve, it doesn't erase their fears.

“I came when I was two years old,” says Rodriguez, who is now 26, and who hasn’t been back to Mexico. “I didn't make this decision, but now I have to suffer the consequences. I'd rather be in the United States than anywhere else in the world. It's my home. But it also doesn't feel like home. Because every two years, you're constantly reminded: I'm not really a part of this country. I have to ask permission to be a part of this society.”

Matthew Patrick Quinn, J. Antonio Rodriguez, and Lana Gordon in Hadestown T Charles Erickson

Rodriguez has been part of DACA since its inception. Previously, the renewal process was smooth and quick—usually taking, at most, a few days. But Rodriguez has been waiting three months for his status to be renewed. He is not alone. It’s been reported that due to the current backlog of immigration cases, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has delayed processing DACA applications. The agency has reported that renewals are being processed at an average rate of two months—though reports of longer wait times are increasing. 

In recent years, DACA has come under fire—the Trump Administration previously tried to terminate the program. Last September, a federal judge in Texas ruled that DACA was "unlawful," preventing the program from accepting new applicants—though DACA can still process renewals. The Supreme Court is expected to hear the court case challenging DACA. Though a majority of Americans support Dreamers being given a path to citizenship, and the Dream Act has been proposed several times by members of both political parties since 2001—Congress has been unable to pass a bill protecting undocumented immigrants who have lived in America their whole lives. 

Now that the focus has been drawn to newly arrived migrants, with increasingly xenophobic rhetoric attached, Dreamers have been left on the back burner politically. For those whose DACA status has run out, with no updates on when their applications will get renewed, they are now unable to work or even drive. Without a valid work permit, Rodriguez can’t even audition for future work. Some Dreamers have launched a petition to try and persuade USCIS to prioritize applications that are over 100 days old.

Rodriguez has been actively trying to find a way to get some answers and updates on his situation, to find some measure of control in a chaotic circumstance. He’s contacted his Oklahoma state representative, he’s emailed the White House. “I literally reached out to my lawyers yesterday, and I asked them if there were any updates. And they were like, truly, you shouldn't waste your time and money. It's just a waiting game.” He hasn't even been informed of why his application was delayed.

So Rodriguez’s days right now include going to the gym, checking the USCIS DACA portal, and waiting. The Hadestown producers have not discharged Rodriguez from his show contract, which expires May 13—he’s continuing to travel with the cast, hoping that any day now, his DACA status will be renewed and he’ll be able to pick up his guitar and take the stage again. In the meantime, for the actor, who’s always taken to “laying low” because of his undocumented status, he’s become more vocal about telling his story—to bring more awareness to an issue that has gotten very little press coverage.

For the actor, who has performed around the country to positive reviews for his performance, the thought of it being taken away because of a piece of paper is “infuriating.” But he's valiantly keeping the feelings of despair at bay—even during the interview, Rodriguez tried to keep a smile on his face. And he’s also been reflecting on how fitting it’s been to be part of a show like Hadestown in this time. During Act II, when Orpheus travels to the Underworld to find Eurydice, there’s a song called “Papers” where Hades tells the hero:

You're not from around here, son.
Don't know who the hell you are but I can tell you don’t belong.​
These are workin' people, son!
Law-abiding citizens.​
Go back to where you came from.​
You're on the wrong side of the fence.​

Orpheus didn’t have the proper documentation. And like the actor playing him, Orpheus' journey is left unresolved even by the end of the show. In one of his last performances in Hadestown, Rodriguez had a hard time finishing the show. “Holy crap, this is really hitting close to home,” he recalls feeling. "I was singing, 'If It's True' and I couldn't get through it. It was just so hard to sing that song and be in that situation."

But like Orpheus, Rodriguez has to try and keep moving forward, even when the road is hard. As he notes: “It’s in the character description, Orpheus is ‘a dreamer.’ I'm a Dreamer...At the end [of Hadestown], they're like, ‘We're gonna sing it anyway.’ And I'm like, yep, that's how it feels. You just wake up and just do it.”

Check out Photos of the North American Tour of Hadestown

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