Armed with prayers and signs, young immigrants hail high court’s decision

News crews film supporters of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program holding signs and cheering at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 18, 2020, after the justices handed down a 5-4 ruling rejecting President Donald Trump’s executive order to cancel DACA. The program was established by the Obama administration to provide legal protections and work authorization to immigrants brought to the U.S. as children by their parents without legal documents.
CNS photo/Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Before college student Luz Chavez left her Gaithersburg, Maryland, home June 18 to hear a decision on the steps of the Supreme Court of the United States, her mother prayed for an outcome favorable to her daughter, whose ability to study, work and not be deported at some point soon hinged on what the justices had to say.

Her prayers were answered when the justices voted 5-4 to block the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, which gives certain legal protection to hundreds of thousands of young adults like Chavez, brought as children to the U.S. by their parents without legal documentation.  

“It finally happened, and we did it together and in community,” Chavez, a student at Trinity Washington University, told Catholic News Service. “For all of us to be here in community, seeing that the Trump administration lost their push to hurt our communities, it feels exhilarating because now we know that people support us.”

Along with about two dozen DACA recipients gathered at the steps of the court — the numbers kept low to allow for social distancing — Chavez was well aware the victory for the program’s beneficiaries was perhaps only temporary.

Pundits were weighing in on whether the decision against the move to stop DACA, a move the court’s majority called “arbitrary and capricious,” gave the administration instructions on how to end the program legally, and only ruled on the way it went about ending DACA. Even if it that’s not the case, those like Chavez say that keeping DACA is not the end goal.

“At the end of the day, DACA is still only a temporary protection and we’re pushing for a permanent protection, not just for immigrant youth but for our whole families,” she said.

DACA was implemented in 2012 under an executive order from President Barack Obama, but in 2017, the Trump administration rescinded it with its own executive order. Its future has since been in the hands of the Supreme Court. The program allows beneficiaries who meet certain criteria — such as being enrolled in higher education and not having been convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanors — the opportunity to study and work in the U.S. and exempts them from deportation.

Some of them live with family members with a range of immigration situations, and now, with jobs drying up because of the pandemic, some DACA recipients, like Chavez, have become the sole breadwinners in certain households. That’s why the possibility of DACA ending added extra strain on the 22-year-old.

“It really scared me. I knew one day I could wake up and not have my work authorization and I won’t be able to work, and I won’t be able to pay rent,” said Chavez, a parishioner at St. Martin of Tours in Gaithersburg, who studies sociology and political science.

Like Chavez, 22-year-old Selvin Marquina of Silver Spring, Maryland, also was present at the Supreme Court’s steps when the decision came down and said the ruling was not an end but a continuation of a journey.

“There’s something good today, but maybe not tomorrow,” said Marquina. “It gives hope, it makes me feel that not everybody is against us.”

He was holding a giant banner along with other DACA beneficiaries, sometimes called “Dreamers,” when a woman behind the group of young adults shouted, “Go home!”

Just behind the banner, others held letters that spelled out: “Home is here.”

“People are starting to realize that we’re not monsters, like we’re portrayed in the media due to the president,” Marquina said. “‘Dreamers’ aren’t gang members, killers, terrorists. We’re people. All of us here, we’re people and we have dreams, we have goals.”

Sometimes an immigration status can kill some of those dreams, said Marquina, who studies computer gaming and simulation at Montgomery College in Maryland. What the high court ruling provided was “a little bit of hope” to continue dreaming, he said.

“When there’s hope, dreams can continue growing,” he said. “No matter what the result had been, we would have continued fighting. We’re not going to give up.”

And perhaps, sometime soon, he added, “there could be a way for us to live a normal life” because DACA is not a long-term solution.  

“It gives us a smile for the day, but the fight’s not over,” he said.

Jose Alonso Munoz, communications director for United We Dream, the country’s largest organization founded by immigrant youth, who also is a DACA recipient, said the news about the titanic victory for immigrant youth was still sinking in.

“There’s a lot of emotions,” he said outside of the court, a few minutes after the decision. “I don’t know that I’ve fully processed it.”

But others should take heart, he said, that even as many legal minds had speculated a different outcome for DACA this summer, the movement organized by young people yielded results.

“This is just the culmination of a victory here for young people and it’s very similar to what we’re seeing out in the streets over the last few weeks with young black leaders,” he said. “It’s very exciting.”

For those like Chavez, it’s also been nerve-racking. Each one of the decisions up until now brings with it stress and lack of sleep, she said. But faith, particularly seeing the faith of her mother, continuously praying for change, and seeing that it yielded results, “it brought me hope,” Chavez said.

The organizations CASA in Action and United We Dream organized the event outside the court, urging that it be kept small and that people wear protective masks, but asking others who wanted to participate in safer ways to do so via a “car rally.”