For Kimberly, an undocumented 20-year-old in Missouri, last week’s decision by a Texas judge to not allow immigrants to file new applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca), a program that shielded them against deportation and provided work permits and other benefits, could have immediate impacts.
Kimberly, who came to the US when she was five, was in the process of applying for Daca. The Guardian is not using her full name. For her, like many others, Daca has been a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs – and one that keeps putting their lives on hold.
“When it first came out, I was nervous to get it. It was new, it seemed risky,” she said of Daca. But after a federal judge ruled in November that the acting DHS secretary, Chad Wolf, was unlawfully appointed to his position, and therefore was not authorized to bar new applicants during his tenure during the Trump administration, she believed it was time.
Kimberly is in the process of applying for college in hopes of becoming a neurologist, inspired by the doctors who helped her during her hospitalization for epilepsy in 2018 and ongoing struggle with the illness. “I want to help anyone who went through what I went through,” she said.
Having Daca would help her apply to get health insurance for the first time, relieving her parents from having to cover medical bills out of pocket. “I’d apply to health insurance, that would take a weight off my shoulders, off my parents – and most importantly, I’d like the opportunity to study.
“All we want to do is work, study, and do right by this country,” said Kimberly of her frustrations over the Texas decision. “It’s unfair. I was so excited to be a step closer and I feel like they’ve put a stop to my world.”
The Department of Homeland Security started accepting Daca applications for those eligible in the program who were not currently enrolled in December.
She and her attorney filled out paperwork, and she said she’d been waiting on news on next steps in her application. “It was definitely one of my dreams,” said Kimberly.
But then the Texas decision happened.
US district judge Andrew Hanen of the southern district of Texas blocked approval of new Daca applications, leaving thousands of immigrants who applied in the past eight months in turmoil, and the Biden administration frustrated on how to proceed in an immigration policy they’ve long supported.
The Daca program, created in 2012 by former president Barack Obama through executive order, allows certain immigrants who arrived in the US as children to live in the United States legally for two years at a time with the opportunity of renewal.
The Department of Homeland Security sent a statement from the secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, saying he is “disappointed” with the ruling and its impact on families across the country. “It will not derail our efforts to protect Dreamers. The Biden-Harris Administration – and this country – remain as committed as ever to ensuring that Dreamers are protected from the threat of deportation,” he said.
The agency said the Department of Justice would appeal the Texas decision in the fifth circuit.
Mayorkas said the agency would continue processing Daca renewal requests, consistent with the ruling. But US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is under his jurisdiction, has already sent cancellations for appointments for first-time applicants, according to texts shared with the Guardian. Others are worried about what happens next and what the court decision will mean in the short term.
The DHS said it could not provide numbers of first-time applications since December 2020, but CBS recently reported more than 81,000 first-time applications filed in that time period by immigrant teens and young adults were pending, including Kimberly’s.
She hopes Congress passes the Dream and Promise Act, and said “this isn’t the end” of the road for Dreamers like herself. “Us Dreamers just want to better ourselves, and all the sacrifices our parents made are worth it.”
The Dream and Promise Act, which creates a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, has long languished in Congress but managed to pass the Democrat-led House in March. It hasn’t yet become law because a minority of senators have filibustered the bill.
One of the many people their actions hold up is Maria, who came to the US in 1998 from Mexico, and was in the middle of her own first-time Daca application when the Texas decision came down.
She submitted all paperwork and was waiting for a letter from USCIS with their decision.
“I had some fear about deportation before I applied, that I would be deported away from my children,” she said. Maria has three children, and hoped Daca could provide opportunities for her family.
“It would have been a huge change. I’ve tried to get a better job, I’ve tried to go to culinary school – but I can’t,” she said. The expense has stood in the way, as it does for many undocumented people who can’t access student loans or scholarships.
Maria is hoping to study English so she can help her children and get a better-paying job, and thinks Daca and protected status would be key for that.
Ines, 19, came to the US when she was a toddler. “This is the only home I’ve known,” she said. She first heard about Daca when she was 10, but needed to be 15 to apply. When she came of age, the Trump administration rolled back the policy.
Ines was seven months into the application process when she heard about the court’s decision, and was celebrating her little sister’s birthday. “I was shocked. I had high hopes. I did everything asked of me, and waited a long time. I had made plans based on that fact that I would have Daca,” she said in a phone interview.
She was looking forward to the work permit that would have allowed her to work and support herself. She’s been going to community college remotely during the pandemic and was hoping to transfer to a four-year school. Ines knew money would be a big issue in that move. Now that’s all in jeopardy because she can’t work.
Ines is hoping that with the Biden administration, something better will come along, and perhaps something better than Daca, which is temporary, will come along.
“What I’m fighting for now is citizenship for all,” she said.