LOS ANGELES – Despite graduating from college, Maria Fernanda Madrigal Delgado in 2011 had no choice but to clean up buildings and return burgers to fast food outlets for money because she didn’t was not eligible to work in the United States. She had grown up undocumented in Southern California after being brought to the country as a child from Costa Rica.
In 2012, after President Barack Obama unveiled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that protected hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrant youth from deportation and allowed them to work, she got a employment of legal assistant. In May, at age 31, she will graduate from San Diego Law School.
Yet almost from the time DACA was created, it has been hampered by legal challenges, which have kept Ms Madrigal and other so-called Dreamers on their toes. Shortly after President Trump took office in 2017, he canceled the program. The Supreme Court ruled in June that he had done so inappropriately, but the administration erected new roadblocks. “It‘s literally like we’re in a ping-pong game,” Ms. Madrigal said. “They are playing with our lives.”
A federal judge ruled in favor of DACA recipients on Friday, ordering the program to be fully reinstated and opening it up to new applicants. But Mrs. Madrigal is not partying. “I realize this is not the end,” she said. “There may be another challenge. We have to get something more permanent. “
For undocumented young adults who were taken to the United States as children, Friday’s court decision was a milestone – an opportunity to gain safety after years of whiplash, as well as the possibility of a return.
Yet their future, most realize, ultimately remains uncertain. For years, DACA has been a political roller coaster, with court rulings and administrative actions every few months rescinding, reinstating and partially canceling the program.
As President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes office, he faces tremendous pressure to do what so many of his predecessors couldn’t – push through a legislative solution that addresses the plight of dreamers once and for all.
“DACA recipients may not yet feel safe, for a variety of reasons,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School. “The only real solution for DACA beneficiaries is legislation offering them a path to legalization. Given the polarization in Congress, this seems difficult to achieve.
In his ruling on Friday, Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of the Brooklyn U.S. District Court overturned a memorandum released this summer by Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security, which limited the program’s protections to those already enrolled. No less than 300,000 new candidates can now participate, if the judge’s decision is upheld.
The Homeland Security Department attacked the decision on Saturday, saying it would comply with the ruling while working with the Justice Department on an appeal.
“DHS totally disagrees with this decision of another activist judge acting out of his own political preferences,” said Chase Jennings, a spokesperson for the department, describing the judge’s decision as “clearly a law or a incorrect logic. “
Unless Congress acts for the dreamers, DACA will likely be embroiled in litigation and legal doubt for some time.
“Unfortunately, dreamers may have to live with some level of doubt and anxiety for the foreseeable future,” said Michael Kagan, an immigration researcher at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
He added: “To be clear: The situation for Dreamers is much more optimistic today than it was six months ago. DACA outlived Trump. And the new president is a big supporter. The question is, how far Biden can go to protect them and make the protection permanent.
In another challenge, a Texas federal judge could rule later this month in favor of conservative state officials hoping to dismantle the DACA. And if Mr. Biden issues a new executive order after he becomes president, Texas or other conservative states could sue to block it.
Moreover, the Supreme Court did not find that the president did not have the power to terminate the DACA, only that Mr. Trump did not follow the proper procedure to do so.
Michael A. Olivas, an academic with DACA, said he believed the program would survive, at least for several years. “The Texas challenge lurks, but the program is safe,” said Olivas, professor emeritus of immigration law at the University of Houston. “Having already referred to the Supreme Court, this continues. It would take several years to be canceled. “
He added, “Meanwhile, the current beneficiaries would have renewed every two years, and hundreds of thousands of people could have signed up,” creating an even larger pool of beneficiaries.
The Obama administration introduced the DACA after Republicans in Congress blocked the Dream Act, a bill that would have given Dreamers strong legal protections and a path to citizenship.
Mr. Obama viewed DACA as an interim measure that would only be in place until lawmakers act. But it did not happen. In 2013, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill with bipartisan support and encouragement from Mr. Obama.
But the Republican-controlled House refused to take this step, even though it would have pumped billions into border security, as it paved the way for citizenship for Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants.
Further congressional efforts to resolve the issue were stalled during the Trump presidency as the administration demanded restrictive measures and Mr. Trump continued his sweeping restrictions on immigration.
A bipartisan deal brokered by Senators Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, collapsed after Mr. Trump denounced immigrants from “shitty countries.”
Mr. Biden has vowed to reverse Mr. Trump’s tough immigration policies and join the DACA program until he can work out a comprehensive immigration plan through Congress.
But immigration is not one of the president-elect’s top priorities, which includes tackling the pandemic, the economy, climate change and the unification of the country.
Mr Biden will come under immense pressure from immigrant rights groups to move beyond executive actions like DACA to permanently ensure protections for Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants.
This will likely be more difficult given the Democratic Party’s infallible control over the House and an almost equally divided Senate. The outcome of two Senate rounds in Georgia early next month will determine whether Mr. Biden’s party controls the agenda in that chamber.
Either way, any solution to the country’s immigration problems will have to be bipartisan at a time when partisanship bitterly divides lawmakers and the country. Mr. Trump may continue to be a mailman even after leaving the White House.
Since entering politics, he has inflamed Republican voters by using xenophobic rhetoric and stoking fear among immigrants. This will continue to resonate in Republican districts, leaving party lawmakers to pause before taking a more lenient approach towards immigrants.
But DACA recipients are some of the friendliest undocumented immigrants, typically having been brought to the United States as a child. Many Republicans and Democrats have said dreamers shouldn’t be punished for growing up in America, often as honest members of their communities.
The Trump administration shut down the program in 2017 just before Arlette Morales of York, Pa., Was 15, when she reportedly qualified to enroll.
“I had lost all hope; I was devastated, ”said Ms. Morales, 18, who was brought from Mexico to the United States at the age of 2.
Immediately after the Supreme Court ruling in June, she prepared and submitted a DACA request, to have it fired after the Trump administration refused to accept new candidates. Again, she felt disappointed.
With her hopes revived on Saturday, Ms Morales said she would resubmit the request as early as Monday.
“I’m applying to colleges right now, and with DACA I can fulfill my dream of a career in criminal justice,” she said, noting that the protections provided by the program would also make her eligible for certain scholarships and studies in the state. course in Pennsylvania.
But she and other Dreamers share the hope of a permanent solution. Even those who qualify for the program must reapply every two years, creating further uncertainty.
“It’s frustrating to live in limbo and in two-year increments,” said Denia Perez, a New York lawyer who was brought to the United States from Mexico when she was 11 months old.
In 2018, she became the first DACA recipient to be called to the Connecticut Bar. For her, Friday’s decision was a huge relief.
“But that’s not enough,” she said. “We need something bolder and more permanent – not just a work permit, but a path to citizenship.”
Yet for some young immigrants, Friday’s court ruling was too little, too late.
After Mr. Trump was elected, Los Angeles DACA laureate Mariela Gutierrez felt increasingly pessimistic about her prospects in the United States despite a college education and good career prospects.
“I was tired of living as a second-class citizen, two years at a time, hoping DACA wouldn’t be wiped out,” said Ms. Gutierrez, who crossed the border when she was very young.
In 2019, she decided to apply for permanent residence in Canada, obtaining approval within months. She moved earlier this year to Toronto, where she is studying law.
“Moving to Canada was tough because my whole life was in Los Angeles – my family and friends,” she said, “but the decision made sense.”