EL PASO, Texas — Amid reports that the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t seem inclined to stop the Trump administration from ending a program that protects young immigrants from deportation, activists had a message for the so-called “dreamers”: Stay strong.
On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that after hearing arguments on the legality of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the court’s conservative majority appeared ready to let the Administration abolish it.
DACA, enacted by executive order in 2012 by president Obama, shielded from deportation and facilitated work permits for many brought into the United States illegally before their 16th birthday. The Trump administration ended the program in 2017 and civil rights groups filed a lawsuit. The Supreme Court began hearing arguments this week and is expected to render a final ruling by June.
“I just want to tell (the dreamers) to know your worth, believe in yourselves and stay positive. There are so many people out there who are fighting for us, that believe in us and they have the voice that we need,” said Viridiana Villa, a “dreamer” from El Paso.
Earlier, national advocacy groups said that a negative outcome at the Supreme Court is not the end of the road for the 700,000 DACA recipients nationwide. They vowed to shift their attention to the mid-term elections and press candidates and lawmakers to support a bill legalizing the “dreamers” and providing them a path to citizenship.
Ray Mancera, national parliamentarian for the League of United Latin American Citizens — the oldest and largest Hispanic civil rights group in America — said Trump ended DACA to force those in Congress who supported the program “to go begging” to him.
“We knew that if it went for a vote we didn’t have the votes to pass DACA, so we filed the lawsuit to stop the executive from taking effect, to see if the President overstepped his authority in ending it,” Mancera said.
Things have changed some, he said, with the House of Representatives now having a majority that supports the legalization of the “dreamers.”
In the meantime, he urges the “dreamers” to not panic in the face of a negative Supreme Court decision.
“I would just have some recommendations for them. Make sure you don’t get into trouble that’s going to jeopardize your future, keep contributing to this great country, work hard, go to school or both, continue to be involved in public policy so you know what’s going on and, above all, have faith in the American legal system,” he said.
And El Paso immigration attorney Iliana Holguin noted that no one knows what, exactly, President Trump will do after the Supreme Court makes a decision on the “dreamers.”
“I hope that even if the decision is contrary to the ‘dreamers’ this Administration will actually take steps to regularize their status, rather than just trying to terminate the program like they did in 2017,” she said.
‘People understand us better now’
Villa, a freelance photographer and community college instructor, said people didn’t understand what DACA was and what is a “dreamer” when president Obama enacted the program in 2012.
“People think that ‘dreamer’ is just a code word for (undocumented) immigrant,’” she said. “I don’t take criticism personally. I think it’s all about misinformation, it’s all about breaking stereotypes. … We have more exposure now and people understand our situation better. I feel most of the sentiment is positive now.”
She noted that those whose DACA petitions got approved underwent extensive vetting, had to file ample documentation of every aspect of their lives, paid fees and, now, pay taxes.
Villa was brought into the United States from Juarez, Mexico, at age 14 by her parents. All of her sisters were born in the United States and her parents are legal residents. However, when the family moved over from Mexico, they couldn’t leave behind their first-born daughter — the only one who wasn’t born in the United States.
“I enrolled in school like any normal kid. It wasn’t until I started applying to college that they started asking, ‘where is your Social Security (card)? Where are all the documents you need to register?’ That’s when I realized that I was in a different situation. I struggled a bit then,” Villa said.
Obama enacted the DACA program just as Villa graduated from college, allowing her to work legally here. It also bolstered her activism.
“Like most people my age, I’m really into social media and I’m quite vocal. Most of my activism is sharing information, getting involved with local activities, when local groups gather, I get to talk to others about this,” she said.
Villa, now 30, said she will continue her activism even if she loses the protection of DACA. “I’m still going to be active. Not having DACA is not going to make me feel different. I will still be who I am,” she said.
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