What do you do when you wake up?
Every morning, I check the Department of Homeland Security’s website for updates about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Or at least, I used to, until July 28.
On that day, the DHS released a memo that directed the agency to reject all new applications for DACA, going against the Supreme Court’s ruling and effectively rejecting my bid for life.
I crossed the border when I was three years old, involuntarily and unconsciously. I am undocumented, illegal, an alien. Yet I have been made American in the fullest sense.
I pledged allegiance to the U.S. flag from kindergarten to my senior year in high school—more than a decade of falsely believing that “liberty and justice for all” was a reality. I was taught whitewashed history in North Carolina public schools. I learned English better than my mother tongue, Spanish. I chased the American dream, as it was the only hope I had for a better life. I was interpolated into the “model minority.”
It’s always tricky to answer, “Where are you from?” I always say that I was raised in North Carolina but born in Costa Rica.
I could lie, say that I’m American, and avoid awkward follow-up questions, but I can’t bring myself to do it. My freedom has already been stifled in so many ways by my status. I won’t allow it to cloak my reality to others.
Being legally barred from working is the most significant way my freedom has been stifled. My college degree will be useless when I graduate; I dread every semester that passes because it’s a reminder of the unfortunate situation that I will face at the end.
The American dream can rightfully be deemed a “dream” in my situation. All because of what I did as a three-year-old.
The most shocking part is that the crime I committed is equivalent to being fined for a parking ticket. If an immigrant is caught attempting to enter the U.S. illegally, they are subject to a fine of “at least $50 and not more than $250 for each such entry,” states Title 8 of the U.S. Code.
Imagine if you parked in the wrong spot and were then subject to separation from your family and the loss of your livelihood.
DACA allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before the age of 16, among other requirements, to live and work in the U.S. legally for two-year periods.
Jeff Sessions, the former secretary of the DHS, ordered DACA to be terminated in 2017. The termination did not allow new applications to be accepted, and wouldn’t allow extensions to be requested, either.
But on June 18, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration did not end DACA lawfully—quite the surprise, given the majority-conservative court. The administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to provide a justifiable explanation for the program’s termination.
This did not mean that the Trump Administration could not end DACA in the future. Rather, it meant that “until you explain why your policy choice was the right one, you have to go back to the old policy,” says Professor Kate Evans, Director of Duke Law’s Immigration Rights Clinic.
Around 700,000 recipients and 1,350,000 eligible immigrants were and still are affected by DHS’s decision, which prompted intense advocacy and litigation challenging the termination of DACA. Ultimately, the case landed at the Supreme Court’s steps, which ordered DHS to resume DACA as it was initially intended by the Obama administration.
After a three-year wait, I applied for DACA in July in the hope that the DHS would abide by the Court’s decision. The legal community believed it would.
“The Supreme Court decision required them to accept new applications,” says Evans. “There was every expectation that [DHS] was going to change their policy.”
But on July 28, the DHS released a memo that ordered all new DACA applications to be preemptively denied and reduced the deferral period to one year. Instead of providing a sound legal justification for ending DACA, they introduced a new policy that restricted DACA even further.
The blame can’t solely be placed on the Trump administration.
“It is rather shocking to see the government violate the Supreme Court’s orders,” says Evans. “Both the creation and dissolution of DACA were products of [Congress’s] failure to create and reform immigration laws. A lot of power sits with the administration around these significant policy decisions.”
The DHS has become its own judge and jury, enabled by its secretary and the president. But this isn’t the end. Dreamers’ last hopes lie in a judge revoking the legality of the memo or in a Democratic-led administration.
DACA would have given me a semblance of justice and allowed me to work for the common good. All I wish for is the chance to one day better the moral and material lives of other Americans.
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