'Dreamers' still hanging in the balance after delays in Texas DACA case

‘Dreamers’ still hanging in the balance after delays in Texas DACA case

May 7, 2021
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Ricky Reyna was 15 years old when his parents moved him and his sisters from the border town of Piedra Negras, Mexico, to San Antonio. — Growing up, Reyna and his family would visit Texas for weekend trips and holidays but in 2005 his parents decided the trip to […]

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Ricky Reyna was 15 years old when his parents moved him and his sisters from the border town of Piedra Negras, Mexico, to San Antonio. —

Growing up, Reyna and his family would visit Texas for weekend trips and holidays but in 2005 his parents decided the trip to Texas would be permanent. Reyna said his parents wanted better education and job opportunities for their children.

The Reyna family settled in a home on the northwest side of San Antonio, where he attended John Marshall High School and played soccer. Those first few years in San Antonio were difficult, citing language barriers that made it difficult to learn and make friends, but he said the move was worth it.

Reyna said his parent’s decision to come to the United States, and the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, changed his life. But as one of more than 104,000 DACA recipients in Texas, according to data from the Migration Policy Institute, Reyna remains in limbo awaiting a ruling out of a federal court in Houston on a case that challenges the legality of the DACA program.

Reyna, who now works as a software engineer in the Austin office of New Jersey-based data company Dun & Bradstreet and is obtaining a doctorate in systems engineering at Colorado State University, is glad his family emigrated.

“Their decision was worth it because I was able to graduate from college, and now I am working and looking to open my own business,” Reyna said. “So, it's been worth it.”

Created in June 2012 under then-President Barack Obama, DACA sought to help children who were brought to the country illegally by providing limited protection from deportation and authorization to work. The children are often referred to as "Dreamers," based on never-passed proposals, first introduced in Congress 20 years ago, called the DREAM Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court stopped Obama's successor, President Donald Trump, in his attempt to end DACA in 2017, ruling the move unlawful. A New York judge in December then ordered the Trump administration to restore the program as enacted by Obama.

But the Houston case directly targets DACA’s original terms, and Texas and eight other states argue that it has violated the Constitution because it undermines Congress’ authority to write immigration laws.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen heard several arguments from Texas and the other states seeking to end DACA in December, but after more than three hours of testimony, Hanen did not issue an immediate ruling, saying he would rule at a later date.

He set an April 9 deadline for attorneys on both sides of the case to provide more information, but a hearing on that has not been set.

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Megan Sheffield, attorney and immigration team lead for nonprofit law firm the Equal Justice Center, credits this delay to legislation that has been introduced in Congress, the Dream Act of 2021, which could create a permanent pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Currently, DACA allows young immigrants brought to the country as children to remain here with a two-year authorization to work that is renewable.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security in March also announced it would issue a notice of proposed rulemaking to protect the DACA program. The rulemaking process allows a notice and a period for public comment before making the program an official rule in the federal register.

“We are taking action to preserve and fortify DACA,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas said. “This is in keeping with the President’s memorandum. It is an important step, but only the passage of legislation can give full protection and a path to citizenship to the Dreamers who know the U.S. as their home.”

Sheffield emphasized that, as DACA recipients wait for an official ruling, it's important for Congress to provide a permanent and long overdue solution. Many benefiting from DACA are teachers, doctors, computer software engineers and attorneys — and diminishing the program would mean sending these people to a country many do not know.

Reyna said he could probably go back to Mexico and find a job, but he would not make as much money as he does now. It also would be hard to adjust after being away for 15 years, he said, adding that his friends have all moved on and changed so much since those days in middle school.

“(The solution is) having a permanent pathway that leads to permanent citizenship for these people,” she said. “These are individuals who have grown up here, were educated here and are largely contributing to our economy. “(The Dream Act of 2021) will be able to do that and recognizes the value and contributions they are already making."

Juan Belman, who emigrated as a child to Austin from Mexico in 2003 with his mother and brother, said many like himself and Reyna have been preparing for the end of DACA for years now.

“Thinking back to the election of Trump I think DACA recipients were very afraid of what that would mean for us, DACA, and for our families,” Belman said. “From the very beginning, we were bracing for the DACA program to end, and so people were figuring out alternative plans, including moving out of the country and continuing their lives elsewhere, but many others were devastated.”

Luckily, he said, there have been lots of delays in court rulings on the program, and with the new Biden administration, DACA recipients are feeling more hopeful.

However, Belman, a program manager at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., said that while the DACA community is feeling a sense of hope at the same time the community has to continue to push the senate to really move forward on this.

“We have seen the current administration has been bold in trying to get policies that our country needs passed,” Belman said. “So, we are hopeful that we see those same bold steps taken with immigration reform.”

In the meantime, Sheffield said she and her team continue to help as many eligible immigrants as possible submit their DACA request applications.

The application process, which can be expensive and take several months to navigate, requires significant documentation and a biometric background check. But over the past year that process has seen major delays because of the coronavirus pandemic, another weight sitting on the shoulders of DACA recipients, she said.

“Those who have filed an application really are in limbo,” Sheffield said. “The vast majority do not have work authorization yet so they are waiting to be authorized to work so they can support their families and pay for college. It is really has been stressful for a majority of clients who have been eagerly waiting to enter the work force.

To help things along, Sheffield said the Equal Justice Center has partnered with organizations across Texas to host virtual clinics for application renewals. For first-time applicants, they are providing direct legal representation because so much help is required.

“While it is extremely difficult to be in limbo and in edge of your seat wondering what is happening next,” Sheffield said, “this time has been helpful in that folks have had more time to get their applications together. So, we are grateful to have had this time so far.”

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