This article was written by BenitoLink intern Andrew Pearson.
On June 18, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 to uphold the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). In Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion, the Trump administration’s first director of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Elaine Duke, didn’t properly justify repealing the Obama-era program, and succeeding DHS Director Kirstjen Nielsen’s justification was “post hoc,” or created after the fact. Roberts ordered the DHS to continue offering the DACA program.
Undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children are safe from deportation under DACA, which allows them to obtain privileges such as a driver’s license and work permit. Beneficiaries must renew their DACA status every two years and cannot be eligible if they are felons or have serious misdemeanors.
Andrea Magaña, a CSU-Stanislaus student and DACA beneficiary from San Benito County, said that she was avidly following the Supreme Court case.
“I was very worried about that, because it took forever for them to decide,” she said. The case was presented during the Supreme Court’s October session and the ruling was issued late in June. “It was very nerve-wracking, because we didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Magaña’s family left the Mexican state of Jalisco when she was three years old. Her father obtained a visa to work in the United States, but Andrea said it expired almost as soon as they arrived. However, the family continued to live in California. Most violations of American immigration law occur when lawful immigrants overstay their visas, either by accident or intentionally, according to the Center for Migration Studies.
By staying in the United States on an expired visa, Magaña said her family was seeking “a better life,” which included medical care for her then-five-year-old sister, who had a brain tumor. She died in February.
Dennys Lopez, another DACA beneficiary from San Benito and a student at Sacramento State University, said that she followed the Supreme Court case through TV news and social media. Her parents brought her from rural Mexico to the United States at age two because “they didn’t really have anything to look forward to like job opportunities,” Lopez said. When they came to the United States they wanted “a better quality of life” and were “thinking about my future.” Her parents’ situation was not extreme, but Lopez said that people fleeing greater dangers “don’t think of the possible consequences, [they’re] thinking about family and their well-being.”
Magaña’s parents and their lawyer enrolled her in DACA around the time it was instituted in 2012, while Lopez was given a prepared DACA application by the organization Services, Immigration Rights, and Education (SIREN). They gathered documents proving five years’ residence in the United States, filled out the application, and mailed it in with a $495 check. Each applicant received an appointment date to get their biometrics done, Lopez said, and after that they waited approximately eight months for their applications to be approved.
DACA has had downsides for both Magaña and Lopez. The $495 application fee per child or young adult is a substantial amount of money. The application must be renewed and the fee repaid every two years. They also can’t safely leave the United States, which means they cannot visit relatives in Mexico.
Still, DACA has given them great opportunities. Magaña, who is studying for an M.A. in psychology and hopes to become a social worker, said “it would’ve been really sad if they had taken it away and I hadn’t finished my last [undergraduate] year of university.” DACA has allowed Lopez to obtain a work permit, driver’s license, Social Security card and her education at Sacramento State.
The young women agreed that citizenship is still preferable to DACA. It would be “a dream come true,” Lopez said, because California “is all I’ve known, I grew up here.”
“If I were able to become a citizen, I would definitely have peace of mind, being reassured that I will be here and I will not be separated from my family.”
When BenitoLink reached out to Lopez, she “was kind of hesitant to accept the interview, because being a DACA recipient, being undocumented you kind of have to be on the lookout.” However she later said, “I think this interview has given me the opportunity to speak out on my personal experience and I hope that my story can help others and let them know that they’re not alone, we’re here together and we just want to build a better future for ourselves.”
BenitoLink also asked Rob Bernosky, a trustee with the Hollister School District, to comment on the DACA ruling. He said he has faith in the Supreme Court’s reasoning and would have accepted any outcome, but he expressed relief and gladness that Homeland Security’s attempt to rescind DACA was denied.
“In the case of DACA, I do not believe Justice Roberts was improper by saying, ‘You didn’t lay out a good enough argument,” Bernosky said. He added, “It is such an important and emotional issue to so many in the country, I want it very well thought out.”
Bernosky believes it would be unjust “to send [the DACA beneficiaries] to some place that they don’t know, that they didn’t choose to leave, and [where] they have no life. I don’t support just deporting people in those situations.”
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