DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is now considered “unlawful” according to Texas federal Judge Andrew S. Hanen’s July 16 ruling. The judge determined that former president Barack Obama “exceeded his authority when he created the program by executive order in 2012.”
The judge stated that new application approvals are prohibited but he would not order the DACA program to be immediately discontinued. DACA, Hanen said, violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), an act that governs the process by which federal agencies develop and issue regulations.
The ruling leaves the immigrant community in Montrose devastated and in limbo, according to Ricardo Perez, the executive director and co-founder of the Hispanic Affairs Project (HAP).
“We are very sad, very disappointed because there are many who we call Dreamers in our communities that we were helping to prepare documentation to apply for DACA for the first time,” said Perez in response to the ruling.
HAP works with the Colorado Immigrants Rights Coalition and the Department of Justice Immigration Legal Assistance Program, which are both programs set up in the Western Slope to help community members with DACA applications and works toward a path to earn their citizenship.
Perez said that HAP supports an average of 80 applicants a year, an endeavor the organization was “excited” to continue before the news reached them on Friday.
The ruling leaves individuals who have already submitted DACA applications to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office prior to the Friday decision in limbo.
“It’s very sad because this was a political motivator,” Perez continued. “We don’t see any other reason to cancel DACA for new applicants.”
The way Perez sees it, Hanen left the door open for DACA renewals, which will allow existing DACA recipients to continue with their permits and renew when ready.
DACA was established on June 15, 2012 through an executive branch memorandum announced by Obama. The USCIS began accepting applications for the program on Aug. 15 of that year. The program determined that certain individuals who immigrated to the United States as children, and met a number of criteria, could request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, which is a deferment subject to renewal after two years.
Program approval allowed DACA recipients to become eligible for a work permit and to reside in the United States legally during that period.
Unlike the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, DACA doesn’t provide a direct path for citizenship.
DACA applicants must meet several guidelines, including having moved to the U.S. before turning 15 and possessing a clean criminal record.
Marketa Zubkova estimates 13 applications have been submitted this year to the USCIS to date and was ready to submit five more applications when the ruling was announced.
Zubkova is the Department of Justice accredited immigration legal representative for HAP, where she provides immigration legal assistance to low income families in Montrose.
Now, Zubkova’s clients are faced with a challenging decision 一 do they submit the application anyway?
The initial application and the renewal request costs $495 for DACA applicants. Zubkova said her clients have to decide if they want to spend the money and provide the USCIS with their information while receiving no benefit of approval. Other applicants have been waiting for approval since January.
“The ruling put everything on hold for many young people who would like to go to college, who would like to work and would like to become valuable members of our community,” Zubkova remarked.
HAP is already working to coordinate actions against the ruling, said Perez. The organization plans to request action from state senators to support DACA through a budget for the program in the Senate, as well as to extend the DACA renewal process so young adults can be protected under a wider window of time.
Perez added that many applicants began applying when they were 16; they have since graduated high school, been to college, joined the workforce and started a family.
“This is their home. They’re active community members participating in our society in many ways, economically supporting the community,” the HAP director reiterated. “So we are asking to put DACA back in place, including for new applicants, but also to make a road to citizenship, which is ultimately what every immigrant is deciding.”
Perez sees DACA as a major step in supporting immigrant families, but is concerned about the obstacles in place for immigrant students and youths.
“Again we are seeing how inequality and sometimes discrimination is coming up in different ways,” said Perez, including that many DACA applicants in Montrose came to the United States as children and now are working to support their families.
Oftentimes, these individuals have parents working in construction, the agriculture industry or rural industries who place “hope” in their children to attend college for employment, but have to pay more in tuition because they don’t have immigration status.
“It’s very painful what’s happening in our community right now, but this is not the end,” Perez concluded.
Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.