The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in a huge victory for Dreamers across the country. The decision is not permanent but is a huge leap forward in the fight to give the estimated 650,000 recipients nationwide permanent legal status.
The decision means Dreamers can continue to renew their status every two years, will be eligible to work, to obtain drivers’ licenses, and are protected from deportation — basic rights that DACA recipients in Texas say opened up a world of opportunity to contribute to society in ways that benefit everyone.
In the Rio Grande Valley, La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) processed hundreds and hundreds of DACA applications on behalf of local residents and union members. LUPE’s executive director Juanita Valdez-Cox said numbers collected by U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, Filemon Vela, and Vicente Gonzalez estimated 28,000 Dreamers live in the area.
Those numbers included parts of San Antonio and Corpus Christi, though the 28,000 DACA recipients living primarily in the Valley represented a significant chunk of the estimated 100,000 Dreamers across the state.
In Thursday’s ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that the ruling focused solely on whether the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action” and indicated the decision to rescind the program should be remanded to DHS for further review by administration officials.
Immigration advocates and those personally affected by the DACA program say that in light of the decision, it’s more important than ever to register to vote, to encourage others to register to vote, and to show up on election day. Despite their legal status and having been raised and educated in the United States, DACA recipients are not citizens, have no path to citizenship, and cannot vote.
“Up to now, it feels like communities of color have felt such a heavy load on their shoulders. At every turn, this administration was trying to keep people of color, immigrants down as much as possible by not giving them the opportunities to fully become participants in this country — at least to work and contribute,” said Valdez-Cox.
“The November elections are critical. Look at the treatment. Look at the separation of children from their families. Look at the incarceration rates. Look at the detention centers; look at what’s happening right now at the detention centers with this pandemic. Keep all of that in mind. We have felt it. We have personally been hurt throughout these years in one way or another.”
Harlingen-based software engineer Julio Maldonado received his DACA status when he was still a teenager. The program enabled him to chase opportunities and develop a successful career in a creative field. When COVID began, Maldonado said he gave up his lease in Seattle, moved back to Harlingen to stay with family, and began saving money in anticipation of his legal status being rescinded this month. He was surprised when the Supreme Court ruled in his favor on Thursday.
“It’s surreal right now. It’s not permanent. We should celebrate, but it’s not certain,” he said. Maldonado urged his peers to register to vote, to register friends, family members, and colleagues. “Biden has, at least recently, come out and said that he will protect Dreamers. I don’t think he has explicitly said he will give us a path to citizenship. A path to citizenship is the only thing that will fully protect us,” Maldonado said.
Many DACA recipients have taken on front line jobs. Javier Quiroz Castro works as a nurse in the COVID-19 unit at Houston Methodist West. On Thursday morning, he was exiting a patient’s room when a colleague told him the news. Castro has a 1-year-old daughter and was overwhelmed with emotion, as he expected the Supreme Court to rule against him.
“I don’t know how many more times I have to prove that I’m a good person for this country. I don’t know what other kind of sacrifice I should be making for this country. I’m currently working this COVID-19 floor. We’re getting huge spikes of patients right now,” he said. “As soon as I saw it online, it was very emotional. I had to go hide. I had to literally remove myself from the unit. I called my wife. It really felt good to have the support of the Supreme Court.”
Castro said of his daughter, “I would never want to be separated from her in any way, so this is why I have to keep fighting and pushing.” Castro’s family came from Mexico when he was 3 years old. He went through college without DACA, meaning he wasn’t eligible for financial assistance, couldn’t take the state board exams, couldn’t get his nursing license, and couldn’t work. When he received his DACA in 2013, it opened up doors.
The nurse emphasizes the importance of sharing his experience where so many DACA recipients are afraid to speak, and with good reason. “Our biggest hurdle is ignorance and misinformation. I married into a family that is very conservative and when I had to let them know that I’m a DACA recipient, I had all of their support. I changed a lot of hearts,” he said.
“We’re not bad people at all. Yes, I’m here undocumented, but I didn’t really ask to be here. I’m glad I’m here. If given the opportunity, I’m going to try to achieve as much as I can, and I can only hope that I’m given even more opportunities, that way I can continue to be an even better person. We’ve gotten so far with so little — just imagine if we can have citizenship.”
In Chicago, Iara Aldape spoke of receiving DACA when she was 16. Aldape was born and raised in Edcouch and Mission and was able to attend college after she became a Dreamer. She said Thursday’s decision was the largest victory in immigrant rights in over 30 years. “I still can’t put it into words yet. It’s so exciting. We’re facing a lot of uncertainty through this pandemic, but DACA recipients — we’ve faced this uncertainty our whole lives. You literally don’t know what’s going to happen to you,” she said.
“I’m safe from deportation right now, I can live my life, I have a job. But, one day it can all be taken away and I can be deported. We need our American allies. Hopefully our American counterparts can bring that to the polls in November and vote for people who are open to immigration and love immigration, because that’s what this country was founded on. It’s a small win, but it’s not the end, and we’re here to do our part and to do as much as we possibly can.”