Texas ruling on DACA dashes hopes in Tennessee
DACA Protesters in front of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexanders offices on West End in 2018. (Photo: John Partipilo)
On July 16, a Texas federal judge ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program was illegal, and although DACA recipients have learned to live with uncertainty, many were still heart broken.
Nashville DACA recipient Nathalia Castro had to think carefully about pursuing higher education, knowing that the DACA program still faces legal challenges. Many of her peers returned to Mexico after graduating high school because they had given up hope of going to college, but Castro took a chance and received scholarships to go to the University of the South, Sewanee.
To qualify for DACA, applicants must have arrived in the U.S. before age 16 and lived in the country since June 2007. Castro was too young to apply for the program when it was first reinstated, so in 2020, she was a first-time applicant.
The Trump Administration sought to repeal DACA in 2020 but failed when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to reinstate it. DACA barely survived, and Castro hoped that she could follow her dream of being a teacher.
Those hopes have been dashed once again, as they had several times for the last four years.
“Just knowing that all the hopes and dreams that I had from when it was reinstated were demolished, it’s been very heartbreaking and very depressing,” said Castro.
“You can be deported at the snap of a finger,” she added.
Castro is one of 13,000 Tennesseans eligible for DACA. Currently, 7,270 are active recipients in the state, but the rest now find themselves in legal limbo since the application process has been frozen for first-time requests, as it was just a few months before.
After the 2020 Supreme Court ruling, immigrant-advocacy organizations rushed to file as many DACA applications as possible under the constant reminder that the program wasn’t permanent. First-time applicants strategized about whether it was worth spending nearly thousands of dollars for the application and lawyer fees while in the middle of a pandemic.
Just knowing that all the hopes and dreams that I had from when it was reinstated were demolished, it's been very heartbreaking and very depressing.
– Nathalia Castro
Applications opened on Dec. 7, 2020, but even if an applicant had filed early, a backlog caused significant delays.
Castro filed her application in February but had yet to be accepted by last Friday. As a first-time filer, her application is now frozen, along with thousands of others.
Those eligible to renew their applications are still allowed to do so, but those stuck in the backlog lost their legal status, face deportation and have no ability to work in the U.S.
“We’ve been down this roller coaster ride since 2017, when the program was first attacked and terminated. It’s exhausting,”said Jazmin Ramirez, a DACA recipient and spokesperson for Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC).
“As a DACA holder, having to only live life in two-year increments and not being able to plan past two years because I don’t know if my DACA will be renewed has affected me,” she added.
On Monday, Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Nashville Mayor John Cooper joined others in sending a letter to the Biden administration asking for a clear path to citizenship for 5 million undocumented immigrants across the country.
President Joe Biden seeks to appeal the federal court ruling, but immigrant-advocacy groups hope to make DACA a permanent solution while the House, Senate and presidency are controlled by the Democratic Party.
While overcoming the filibuster remains a problem, democrats may include DACA in a reconciliation bill, which is normally used for more traditional investments in infrastructure. Because the reconciliation bill only requires a simple majority of 51 votes, democrats would have a greater chance at making DACA a permanent program. And although it’s too soon to know if DACA will be included in the provisions, legislators that were previously reluctant have now expressed support, including U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia.
“We could be pretty close to the finish line, as far as big immigration provisions go,” said Greg Siskind, an attorney at Siskind Susser PC, an immigation firm.
Regardless, said Siskind, DACA opponents still face many obstacles. Texas and several other states have spent years attempting to terminate the program, but the 2020 Supreme Court ruling and a New York federal judge has given DACA a chance.
“I’m relatively optimistic that this will only be a short disruption for new people,” he said.
TIRRC officials plan on continuing to educate the immigrant community about their options. While first-time applications have been frozen, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is still accepting initial applications, even though they won’t be processed. Immigrants filing applications have no guarantees but could have their files processed quickly once DACA is reinstated.
“Everybody needs relief. We have been down this road for far too long,” said Ramirez.
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