If there is one month in recent memory that tested the limits of Damaris Gonzalez’s mental and emotional strength, it was September 2017.
Hurricane Harvey had just ravaged southeast Texas and left Gonzalez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico City, unemployed after the clothing store where she worked was flooded. A new state immigration law that allows local police officers to question a person's immigration status, called Senate Bill 4, had just gone into effect.
Then President Donald Trump announced he was terminating an Obama-era policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that protected Gonzalez and more than 130,000 other Texans from deportation.
Gonzalez said she was helping run a phone bank at the local Spanish-language news station when she heard the news about DACA.
“I was at Univision with the whole team from United We Dream thinking, ‘I don’t know what’s going to be next for me,’” she said, referring to the immigrant rights group where she was volunteering. “With no opportunity to renew my [DACA] permit, I might not be able to have a job.”
Gonzalez, 34, received her DACA permit in 2012 and has renewed it three times since. Courts have heard challenges to Trump's decision to halt the program and have allowed DACA recipients like her to continue renewing their permits — but no new applications have been accepted.
Thursday marked the two-year anniversary of Trump’s announcement, and the program's fate still hasn't been resolved. The U.S. Supreme Court announced earlier this year it would hear arguments in the case in November, which Gonzalez said means another roller coaster of emotions, even though the court's decision could offer some closure.
“There are a lot of mixed feelings,” she said. “I think many, many immigrant youth agree with me: We’re tired of this administration, and we’re tired of everybody playing with our feelings. They put us in a place where our future is uncertain. All we want to do is to have a better future, for ourselves, for our families, for our communities.”
Texas' Republican leadership has joined the Trump administration's efforts to end DACA; late last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an amicus brief in support of Trump’s decision.
“The DACA program was a lawless exercise of executive power, and the Trump administration’s decision to rescind DACA was absolutely necessary to uphold the rule of law,” he said in a statement. “The President’s duty is to ensure that the law is faithfully executed, not to unilaterally re-write the law anytime the President disagrees with Congress’ decision.”
Since 2012, DACA has been awarded to about 800,000 recipients, including more than 130,000 in Texas. Each recipient received a renewable, two-year work permit and a reprieve from deportation. It applies to undocumented immigrants that came to the country before they were 16 years old and were 30 or younger as of June 2012.
Just after Trump’s announcement, polling showed a majority of Texans favored a solution for DACA recipients, commonly referred to as "Dreamers." An October 2017 Texas Tribune/University of Texas at Austin poll showed that two-thirds of registered voters favored a program to prevent deportation of the undocumented youth.
Paxton successfully challenged in federal court a 2014 expansion of the DACA program, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, which would have provided similar relief to about 4 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott filed that lawsuit in 2014 during his final months as attorney general.
As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in the case, proponents of the program continue their campaigns to convince Americans of its benefits. The DACA program requires robust background checks of applicants and is a boost to the country’s economy, they argue.
The Center for American Progress, a progressive organization that advocates for immigration reform, said DACA recipients and their households pay about $5.7 billion in federal taxes, pay $3.1 billion in state and local taxes, and have a combined $24.1 billion in purchasing power.
“The data further illustrate what we already know — that DACA recipients are deeply woven into the social and economic fabric of the United States,” said Nicole Svajlenka, a senior immigration policy analyst for the group. "They’ve made their homes here and have planned futures, and the entire country benefits because of this.”
Vanessa Rodriguez Minero, 21, a DACA recipient originally from Puebla, Mexico, has lived in Texas since she was 6 years old. She said some DACA recipients are used to the frustration and anxiety. But it doesn't reduce the current tension.
"It feels a little bit like this state of uncertainty has been prolonged for so long in my life that it feels not new," said Minero, who graduated as salutatorian from Elgin High School east of Austin. "It doesn’t mean it doesn’t worry me or doesn’t make me feel fearful about what I will do after college. But it’s also a little frustrating because lower courts have stated that the program has been useful."
The debate over DACA will continue, but Gonzalez said she knows that the program’s ultimate fate rests with the country’s high court. While she waits, she said she will continue speaking out publicly as an advocate for other immigrants like her.
“I refuse to continue living in the shadows, and I refuse to continue letting this administration put fear into people,” she said, adding that she hopes her fellow Dreamers will not lose faith. "That’s the last thing we want you to do. We’re here for them.”
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