Immigrants in Limbo Speak Out

laudia Marchan has much to worry about, not knowing if the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will deprive her of protection against deportation and separate her from her family.

Deportation enters the picture if the Supreme Court—expected to rule on DACA by the end of June— holds that the Trump Administration’s attempt to dismantle the program can proceed.

 Since she was four years old, Marchan has lived in the United States and she has become a part of the Chicago area’s vibrant immigrant community. Mexico, her homeland, is a distant memory for the thirty-seven-year-old and not even that for her young U.S.-born children, Ximena and Enrique. 

Deportation enters the picture if the Supreme Court—expected to rule on DACA by the end of June— holds that the Trump Administration’s attempt to dismantle the program can proceed.

As Marchan and her husband celebrate their daughter’s eighth and son’s fifth birthdays, they face a frightening set of possibilities.

“Even talking about it, I’m starting to get emotional because it has never been so real to me as now,” says Marchan. “We talk about planning who the kids would stay with if something were to happen to both of us.”

Marchan advises DACA recipients as executive director of Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors, but now fully realizes how traumatic these decisions can be: “I tell my clients to have a plan of action, but I don’t have my own plan of action.”

These concerns are on the minds of many DACA recipients, commonly called Dreamers. The reach of the Supreme Court’s decision, after all, could go well beyond the almost 650,000 immigrants with DACA status.

The parents of DACA recipients—the “original Dreamers”—often fled persecution, gang violence, and poverty, determined to find a better future for their children. Typically, they have remained undocumented, while their children were given protection from deportation and work permits by the Obama Administration’s establishment of DACA in 2012.

DACA recipient Sandra Loza came here in 1998 from Mexico at the age of six, with her parents and two siblings. The children, all benefiting from DACA, along with a fourth sibling born here, now help support their parents. 

While undocumented, the parents worked for many years but now have serious health problems —their mother suffers from cancer, their father had a heart attack.

“My parents have contributed a lot to this country,” says Loza, who is on the staff of St. Paul’s Newman Center in Laramie, Wyoming. “They are just really good people.”

In addition to assisting Hispanic college students, Loza makes public appearances in the community. “The one question that I am always asked is ‘what about the criminals who have DACA?’” says Loza. But that can’t be the case, since anyone convicted of a serious crime is ineligible for DACA. 

The stakes are also high for DACA recipient Thalia Osorio, who just earned her nursing degree from Goshen College in Indiana. She expects to soon join the estimated 29,000 other DACA recipients employed in the health care field— including many on the front lines treating COVID-19 patients.

But Osorio, twenty-one, fears the Supreme Court’s ruling could jeopardize the nursing job she has lined up to begin in August at a local hospital.

 “Just one decision can ruin my whole life,” says Osorio.

Congress’s inability to provide a pathway to citizenship for the almost 11 million undocumented immigrants already here is the backdrop to DACA as well as another program—Temporary Protected Status—also under attack by Trump.

TPS designation is authorized under a 1990 law providing temporary legal status— subject to periodic reviews—to immigrants, documented or not, who are in the United States when their homelands are struck by disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or war. 

The vast majority of the more than 300,000 current TPS recipients are from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti. Most have been living in the United States for many years.

“The Trump Administration has attempted to end TPS because of its racial animus toward TPS holders and other non-white, non-European immigrants,” says Ahilan Arulanantham, the lead ACLU lawyer in two of the major lawsuits challenging Trump’s attempt to end TPS protections.

Prior to Trump’s election, periodic reviews of a TPS designation took into account the existing problems facing the designees’ homeland. But Trump is dead set on ending TPS for immigrants from six nations: El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan.

“To realize an ‘American First’ immigration policy, political surrogates sidelined career personnel, crippled critical interagency review processes, and discarded pre-existing agency decisionmaking procedures,” say TPS plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits challenging the termination.

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James Goodman