On November 14, 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis ordered the Trump administration to reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to its original form set by Obama in 2012 ,and began accepting new applications. This comes as a major victory for the 640,000 current DACA recipients and the 300,000 eligible applicants.
Maria graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in journalism as a recipient of DACA, crediting her love for writing and passion for human rights . Her parents brought her to the United States (McAllen, Tx) from Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico when she was less than five-years-old in hopes of a better life. She says she has only been back once when she was thirteen.
“We dealt with a lot on our immigration journey, and there were a lot of things that we were trying to avoid, like deportation,” Maria stated.
Despite their efforts, they found themselves still illegals in the country they considered home. Maria finally found some hope when she gained DACA status at the age of 15.
“DACA changed a lot. DACA allowed me to drive a car, and get a job and for a while, gave me hope,” said Maria.
Under the Obama administration, the DACA program was created to safeguard young undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them as minors. To qualify for the DACA program, applicants must follow strict guidelines to remain eligible for renewal after the two-year protection expires. To be eligible for DACA, applicants must have arrived in the United States before the age of 16, lived here since 2007, earned a school diploma or GED, or served honorably in the military. Applicants with a criminal record will not be considered.
In contrast with The DREAM Act, initially introduced in 2001, DACA does not provide a pathway to legal status for the undocumented youth. Rather, DACA provides these individuals the refuge to work lawfully, attend school, obtain a driver’s license and be protected against deportation as long as they abide by the guidelines and renew their status.
Program recipients, commonly referred to as “Dreamers”, have to abide by the strict guidelines to remain of status. Once gaining DACA status you can not leave the country without submitting an advance parole request, and you can not apply to be a resident. Maria says the hardest part is not being able to see her family in Mexico, and not having any family in the United States.
Under President Trump’s immigration reformation, DACA recipients were faced with uncertainty from the revocation of the program announced on September 2, 2017 by Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke. This redefined the terms of DACA renewals to be limited to current status holders whose status was due to expire March 5, 2018 if they applied by October 5, 2017. No others would be considered. In the wake of review by the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, the termination of the program was deemed unlawful. On July 17, 2020, the DACA program was restored.
“There is this terrible degree of anxiety that you feel knowing at any given moment that your entire life could change in a way that most people will never understand,” says Maria. “When Trump overturned DACA, I just got motivated, like extremely motivated.” She says this is what led to her years of intense activism.
In the efforts to rescind the reach and impact of DACA, the Department of Homeland Security limited renewal periods to one year and refused to accept new applications. Additional logistical challenges made it difficult for applicants if they had not previously participated. Garaufis ruled this an unconstitutional order because the official who granted the motion, Chad Wolf, lacked the authority. He served as acting secretary of Homeland Security, but was not lawfully promoted to that position.
Maria explains some of the skepticism surrounding the restoration, “I think people think like ‘You’re on DACA you’re good,’ no, we are not because there is so much fear involved in this from it being able to be taken away at any time. I just want people to know I mean it when I ask people to contact their local representatives. We need more, deserve more and have proven ourselves.”