‘Dreamers’ cope with tension amid imminent Supreme Court ruling on DACA

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Advocates urge Congress to step in should the high court withdraw legal protections for undocumented migrants brought into U.S. as children

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Nia Alvarez has no problem being labeled a “Dreamer.”

“It defines me legally and it defines me as a person. I like to dream big and I think the United States is a great place to dream big,” says the El Paso Community College film and television studies major.

In the next few hours, she and another three-quarters of a million immigrants brought into the United States illegally as children could find out if they can keep their work permits or face the possibility of deportation.

This, as legal experts expect a Supreme Court ruling any time now on whether President Donald Trump had a right to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2017.

An Obama-era executive initiative, DACA suspended deportation and gave the right to obtain work permits and a social security number to undocumented immigrants who came into the United States before their 16th birthday and met other conditions.

Trump moved to end the program in 2017 but a federal court ruling has allowed it to continue. The so-called “Dreamers” can renew two-year permits until the Supreme Court decides otherwise. The term originated from the failed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2001, or the DREAM Act.

Like Alvarez, who was brought into the United States by her parents at age 5, many “Dreamers” can’t fathom being sent back to countries that are now totally alien to them.

NIa Alvarez (photo by Julian Resendiz)

“This is the only country I’ve known. I’ve never gone to school in Mexico, I have never made a life in Mexico. If (the Supreme Court rules against DACA) it would be very disappointing. It would put me between a rock and a hard place,” Alvarez said.

In addition to pursuing an associate’s degree, the 20-year-old works at her family’s restaurant in El Paso’s Lower Valley and sings in a college band.

El Paso immigration lawyer Iliana Holguin said these are trying hours for the “Dreamers.”

“We don’t know what court is going to decide and that’s what makes it so difficult for the ‘Dreamers,'” she said. “They’ve been in a terrible situation since the Trump administration decided to terminate DACA in 2017.”

Many advocates — and elected officials — consider DACA recipients special because of their youth and potential, the fact that they’re U.S.-educated and, in many cases, completely Americanized. Some don’t even speak the language of the countries they were born in.

“For all intents and purposes, they feel they are Americans,” Holguin said. “We as a society have already made a huge investment in their education and now these young people are contributing to our society and our economy. We even have ‘Dreamers’ in the health care industry on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The immigration attorney is aware that some Americans are against all forms of illegal immigration.

“What I would tell those people is that it makes no sense for us to punish these “Dreamers” for something their parents did when they were children, something they had no control over,” she said. “They are doing everything we would ask any young person to do: get through high school, go on to college, get a degree and become a contributing member of society.”

If the Supreme Court finds DACA unconstitutional, Democrats in Congress say they will once again try to pass a law legalizing them. One such initiative passed the House last year but was never approved in the Senate.

But on Wednesday, a prominent Texas Republican said he wants to protect the “Dreamers.”

“We need to protect these young people, who through no fault of their own find themselves in a very, very difficult position,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told the Houston Chronicle. “We don’t hold children responsible for the acts of parents in America, and we shouldn’t start here.”

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