Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 5–4 that the Trump administration’s efforts to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, violated the law. The ruling, which allows around 700,000 childhood arrivals to retain work permits and remain free of deportation, was a tremendous victory for so-called Dreamers.
At the same time, however, the Supreme Court left open the possibility for the Trump administration to correct the legal infirmities of its original attempt to rescind DACA and try again. Shortly after the court announced its decision, President Donald Trump said his administration intended to do just that and “refile” its bid to end DACA.
Whether or not Trump follows through on this threat, Dreamers will remain at the whim of the courts and presidential administrations. Even if the policy remains in place, DACA status has to be renewed every two years, which means DACA recipients will continue to be political pawns in the yearslong legislative battle over immigration reform.
Prior to the court’s decision and then after, I spoke and exchanged emails with five DACA recipients about their experiences with the program, their lives today, their hopes and fears for the future, and their feelings about the Supreme Court ruling.
Irving Calderon, 28, former General Motors project manager and incoming graduate student, arrived in the United States from Mexico when he was 7 months old.
On living under DACA: It just seems like it doesn’t matter how much effort I put in and how much I show that I’m working hard, that I am the type of citizen that the U.S. says it wants to create—and the U.S. did create, because I’ve been here since I was 7 months old, so I am part of the system. And yet … it’s always that uncertainty, because even with DACA it’s just every two years, and now it’s like, well, I don’t know what will happen after these two years. It’s that constant uncertainty that really wears you down mentally. …
One of the things that hurts me the most about the situation in being a DACA recipient is that I feel completely American. It’s kind of weird for me to even think that I am anything other than American. … It’s disappointing to know that your own—what you consider your own country, where you grew up, you built, you helped, you contributed … and yet, we’re still just political pawns. We’re nothing more than just a means to an end, and it’s really sad and depressing to us who consider ourselves completely American.
On the court’s decision: I am a bit surprised about the outcome but obviously immensely grateful that the Supreme Court provided a much-needed victory. It is a huge relief! For the rest of 2020, we can feel safe. However, Trump’s threat reinforces why we need the Senate to pass legislation.
Isaias Guerrero, 35, immigration organizer and activist, arrived in the United States from Colombia when he was 15 years old.
On living under DACA: I think that what you don’t realize as [an] undocumented [person] is how others who are around you that love you that maybe have papers experience that vulnerability. I know my mother, for example, she’s a citizen. I know that she’s deeply fearful of what could happen to me. … I saw my partner crying and saying, “I don’t know what could happen, and I am deeply afraid,” and in that moment I realized that I was being selfish and I need to create a [family preparedness] plan so that we all have peace of mind, that we know what to do. It’s not just one person—it’s a whole family and a whole community that ends up being affected by it.
On the court’s decision: I was so happy when I read the news. My mother cried and basically she called me saying she wished she could give me a big hug in the moment. I went down to the Supreme Court to join other organizations, and it was a beautiful moment because there were about a hundred undocumented youth in front of the Supreme Court chanting “Undocumented, Unafraid,” “Black Lives Matter.” … But then again, we have our parents and people in our community who were left out of DACA, and as these protections are impermanent, we know that we can lose them at any point. So this is definitely a huge win, we have to own it, we have to celebrate it. But we also have to push for the 11 million so that all of our communities can live in peace and can live a life of dignity without fear of being deported every day.
Pierre R. Berastaín, 32, director of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response at Harvard University, arrived in the United States from Peru when he was 11 years old.
On life before and after DACA: I dedicated my career to working in the space of domestic sexual violence, trafficking, and stalking. … When I was at Harvard and I went to the university and reported [my own experience of sexual victimization], one of the biggest fears that I had was … about the potential repercussions that reporting this might have on my family. I don’t want [the person who assaulted me] to report my family to law enforcement, to customs and immigration enforcement, or if there would be some type of retaliation. … When I brought up this concern, the answer that I received was “That’s a very well-founded concern.” … I retell that story because I think it’s telling of the types of other factors or unintended consequences or implications that being undocumented have on people. In this case, [I was] a victim of sexual assault who felt that I couldn’t report something and try to get some sense of reparation or justice, simply by the fact of being undocumented. And having DACA, for me, lifted that fear of reporting crime, or reporting something that to me seemed off or wasn’t safe. And it’s played out in my own ability to also intervene in circumstances that I have found are problematic.
Juan Escalante, 31, digital campaigns manager at FWD.us, arrived in the United States from Venezuela when he was 11 years old.
On life before and after DACA: Growing up without DACA, it was going out the door, kissing your mother goodbye, hugging your dad, knowing full well that you and/or your parents may not come back. And I know that’s kind of like a line that has been reused or recycled a number of times, but it’s the truth. You would get in that car and you would have no idea if you were coming back because … you could be pulled over for the slightest mistake that you made behind the wheel. ….
I graduated in 2011, [and there was] still not DACA—it’s almost unbelievable at this point in time [to think about]. A year went by, and it was probably one of the toughest years of my life because you spend your whole life idealizing or putting up on a pedestal the idea of going to college and graduating, and now that I had done it … I had a college degree, a very expensive piece of paper, but I didn’t know what I was going to do with it because I still couldn’t get a job.
Fast forward a year … a bunch of individuals were able to organize themselves and stage sit-ins in the Obama for America offices [during] the 2012 election. This was essentially a coordinated campaign among undocumented youths who were kind of fed up with the Obama administration … saying that Dreamers were the superstars of the country, but simultaneously his deportation machine was essentially deporting the same people that he was praising. After much back-and-forth and after several of those offices were forced to close—because … the Obama campaign was faced with a predicament: They either reopen their offices and have these undocumented students arrested and confirm that they were tough on immigration … or they essentially blinked and yielded the creation of the DACA program.
I remember June 15 being a hot summer day in Tallahassee, Florida, I was working an unpaid internship. … I’m sitting there somewhat towards the middle of the day. … It must have been 10 or 15 minutes before the announcement was given when I got a call from a private member. I usually think it’s spam, but I picked up the phone, and it was a White House staffer. … She basically told me to turn on the TV, that the president was going to make an announcement at the Rose Garden, and it would have a significant impact on my life, and she basically asked me to help people sign up for this program and not let them be defrauded or taken advantage of by predatory lawyers. So I said, “Yes, ma’am, thank you so much,” and I watched the announcement. It was kind of a mixed set of emotions for me … just because again … I knew from the moment that I heard the announcement that this was going to change my life, but I also knew that it didn’t apply to my parents. So I had to have this very difficult conversation with my mother soon after the announcement and basically tell her this is amazing, it’s great, and kind of break the news that she wasn’t going to be eligible for this. … I think that as the oldest of three children it’s kind of hard that you have to lay your parents so low when they’re the ones that have been sacrificing so much for you to succeed. It was a bittersweet moment, I would say.
On the court’s decision: It’s hard to understate how great it feels to have defeated the Trump administration’s constant attacks against DACA inside the highest court in the land, but I’m also keenly aware the fight is not over.
Karen Reyes, aka Jane Doe No. 5 in the Supreme Court DACA litigation, 31, special education teacher in Austin, Texas, arrived in the United States from Mexico when she was 2 years old.
On the threat of DACA ending: I didn’t live my life in a lot fear before DACA. … I’ll still be here should DACA end. There’s nothing for me in Mexico. I don’t know my own country of birth. This is my home. … One of the questions that [journalists] always ask is “What are your contingency plans?” … and I always feel like folks are expecting the answer to be “We gave it a good old try—now it’s time to go back to our country.” But I think it’s important to note this is our home. I’ve been here for a very long time, other folks have too, and our communities have lived and thrived in this country without DACA, we’ll continue to do so. … I’m here to stay, and I’m sure a lot of us are.
On the court’s decision: I’m obviously happy with the outcome, it is a win for our community, but we also know that it is temporary. As we have seen these last few years, and immediately following the decision, the attacks against the immigrant community keep coming.