DACA ruling adds urgency to local immigration cases
Following the ruling of a federal judge in Texas that has thrown into question the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Massachusetts organizations are working to help local DACA recipients renew their status.
The ruling, from Judge Andrew Hanen in the District Court of the Southern District of Texas, prohibits United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from approving any new DACA applications. The program, which was first implemented in 2012 by a Department of Homeland Security memorandum, allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to get work permits, Social Security numbers and protection from deportation if they meet specific criteria.
For Boston residents, the ruling means that any potential DACA recipients who are not currently protected under the program are unable to get their applications processed. Those new applications will exist in limbo while the decision may go through an appeals process.
Those who currently have DACA status will not lose it.
“The people that it affects are people who have had DACA status and it lapsed more than a year ago or people who are eligible for DACA status and didn’t apply for it at some point in the past couple of years,” said Daniel Pereira, director of communications for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). “Those are the people who would be affected, in the most immediate sense, by the ruling, because they will not be able to get their applications processed by USCIS.”
Hanen’s ruling prevents the approval of new applications because he found DACA’s formation — and therefore the program — illegal under federal law. It does not affect the status of current recipients or their ability to renew, taking into account the significant reliance that current DACA recipients have on the program.
“If you have DACA status, you retain that status; you’re not going to lose it,” Pereira said. “If you’re eligible to renew, we actually encourage everyone who’s eligible to renew to do so as soon as they’re eligible to do so because those renewal applications won’t be halted by this ruling.”
In light of the ruling, ImmigrationHelp.org, a legal nonprofit that helps immigrants fill out required forms, is focusing entirely on helping individuals renew their DACA status, said Fernando Urbino, a founding member of the organization.
For DACA recipient Daniela Carvajal, who has had DACA status since 2012, the ruling was concerning but not surprising.
“It’s very heartbreaking for those [who do not currently have DACA status], because as a DACA recipient, I know the relief that you feel when you know that you will be able to be protected from deportation, that you’ll be able to have a work permit, a Social Security number,” Carvajal said.
While this was only one ruling, she wonders what the future of the program might be.
“I question if, even for us who already have DACA, if we will be able to renew when the time comes, because I think a lot of this has been very uncertain,” Carvajal said.
Patricia Montes, executive director of the local Latino immigration nonprofit Centro Presente said she worries about what the ruling might mean to not only DACA recipients, but also other undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
“It’s sending a very negative message, not just [to] Massachusetts, but for the entire New England community in general and across the country,’ Montes said. “And I believe it’s not just for DACA recipients. I believe it’s a message that’s going for all immigrants that are living in the country without the right to live with dignity because they don’t have the proper documentation to live and work in this society.”
Carvajal, who is also the immigrant rights organizer at Centro Presente, said the uncertainty she feels around DACA is not limited to the single program. Rather, she said it also applies to other immigrants living in the U.S., temporary protected status (TPS) recipients and migrants still coming to the U.S. border.
“It’s just very saddening, especially because I know that, with this new administration, the hope was that the treatment would be different — the treatment of immigration issues — and then also the community would be different, but it seems that maybe there isn’t a very direct speech of hate towards the community, but still, the actions are not matching the message that was being sent.”
For these organizations, the latest ruling is just a reminder that they want to see more action taken to help immigrants living in the U.S.
“I think short term, we want to see both administrative and legislative action to protect DACA, and in the longer term, we really want to see a more substantive and coherent pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants,” Pereira said. “Because DACA’s a great program, but we’ve also always understood it to be a measure to get to what we want in the long term.”
That long-term goal: a way for DACA recipients to become full-fledged U.S. citizens.
“What is really needed is a clear path to citizenship for these individuals,” Urbino said. “And so, what we’re hoping, is that what comes out of this is pressure on Congress; that they can provide a clear path to citizenship for these individuals and eliminate some of that fear that they have.”
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who represents the 7th Congressional District, expressed the same sentiment at an event held Friday by MIRA and SomerViva, the Somerville Office of Immigrant Affairs.
“Congress must lead in this moment because the courts have already proven they’re not on our side,” Pressley said. “So, if the courts are not going to step up, then Congress must step up. No matter what a judge in Texas says, we know that approximately 5,600 DACA recipients in Massachusetts and more than 600,000 DACA recipients across the country have protected the health of Americans before and throughout this pandemic.”
Meanwhile, organizations’ efforts to aid DACA recipients come amid uncertainty. The future of DACA waits to be determined by the results of legal appeals to Hanen’s ruling. According to a July 17 statement from President Joe Biden, the United States Department of Justice intends to appeal.
“This is one ruling, but depending on how rulings come down in the future, what happens with them, there may be worse news coming for DACA recipients; there may be better news coming for them, but we’re certainly not happy about it,” Pereira said. “But we do want to let people know that, if you are a current DACA recipient or you’re looking to renew your status, then you should still hold that, or do that as soon as possible.”