Local advocates react to restoration of DACA
Local advocates are celebrating a recent federal court decision to restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offers legal status for some individuals who immigrated to the United States as children.
As a result of the ruling, many young undocumented immigrants will be eligible to apply for the program for the first time since September 2017, allowing them to obtain work permits and protection against deportation.
“It seems like a lifetime to all of these kids who have grown up here and may have already graduated high school or college during the past 3 1/2 years,” said Karen McCarthy, founder of Elevation Law and advisory board member for Mountain Dreamers, a local immigrant rights nonprofit that provides legal and financial assistance for DACA recipients and applicants. “Their options have been super limited. This ruling is life-altering for a ton of young people, so I’m very glad this decision came out when it did.”
The DACA program was established under the Obama administration in 2012 to provide work permits and temporary legal status to qualified young people who came to the country as kids. The Trump administration attempted to terminate DACA in September 2017, which effectively cut off any new applicants to the program and kicked off a yearslong legal battle between DACA supporters and opponents.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that blocked the administration’s attempts to end the program. Days later, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memorandum outlining new rollbacks of the program, including a continued prohibition on new applications and the reduction of renewal permitting from two years to one.
Then last month, a U.S. District Court in New York found that the memo was issued without legal authority, again invalidating the attempt to narrow the program. The ruling, penned by U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, called the memo “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered the Department of Homeland Security to fully restore the DACA program.
The department formally began accepting new applications earlier this month and also reinstated two-year permit renewals for qualifying applicants, which is notable given the $500 renewal fee.
Local DACA supporters have praised the ruling.
“It’s very exciting,” said Karen Lozano, a senior at Summit High School and president of the school’s Mountain Dreamers chapter. “I’ve been crying for these last few days since applications opened back up. It’s life-changing. … It helps you build a future, to be able to work and to drive, and so many other things when you feel like you can’t be somebody in this country otherwise.”
Lozano emigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico, with her parents when she was 3 months old. She first gained eligibility to apply for DACA protections more than three years ago, when she turned 15 — the same time the Trump administration first moved to kill the program. She said she doesn’t intend to miss her chance again.
“This time, I have everything ready,” Lozano said.
For Lozano and others in a similar position, becoming a DACA recipient allows for peace of mind and the potential for a more secure financial future.
“(DACA) keeps families together, and makes sure that people don’t have to live in fear, especially for kids that don’t even remember their country of birth,” McCarthy said. “Exiling someone to a country they have no memory of is a complete injustice that we’re able to avoid under DACA. And practically, people are able to get Social Security numbers when they’re granted employment authorization, which opens up a lot of doors to a better financial future, like being able to apply for financial aid, credit cards and numerous other benefits.”
As proponents continue to cheer the restoration of the program, some warn that the victory could be short-lived. There is ongoing litigation surrounding the program, including in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, where the state’s attorney general filed a multistate motion urging the court to declare DACA unlawful.
A judgment could be issued in the case as early as Dec. 22, which could again represent significant impacts to the futures of DACA recipients and others hoping to apply.
Advocates say the biggest priority is still seeking more permanent solutions to protect recipients.
“I’m excited for the thousands of young people across the state of Colorado who never qualified for DACA and who now have the same great opportunity that it’s given me to go to college, graduate and serve my community,” said DACA recipient Marissa Molina, Colorado director with FWD.us, an organization that focuses on immigration and the criminal justice system. “But that case could change where DACA is at. We’re celebrating this victory, but because DACA remains under attack, our focus is still on fighting for more permanent protections.”
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