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“I Really Depend On DACA”: Texas-Led Lawsuit Threatens Families, Livelihoods, and 11 Years of DACA Success Stories

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DACA recipient Eliana Fernandez on years of GOP litigation: “Every time there is a hearing or as we await a verdict, I not only have to prepare myself but also my children, my parents, my brother and the rest of my family. This is exhausting and terrifying.”

Juan Carlos Cerda said that even though he excelled in school and was accepted to Yale University as an undocumented student in 2015, his first year was draining. While he’d won a scholarship to pay for his tuition, he was unable to work legally because of his immigration status. That meant Cerda was not only missing out on internship opportunities available to students, he also had no funds to visit his family back home in Texas. He told The Texas Tribune that “it was easy to get disillusioned. It was easy to lose hope.” 

That all changed when he applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program the following year “and landed a job in the university’s IT department earning $15 an hour, which allowed him to support himself through the rest of college,” the report continued. “After graduating, he returned to Dallas and became a kindergarten teacher.”

But this is just one of the countless success stories that Republican states are seeking to stop through the ongoing lawsuit spearheaded by impeached Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. The primary abuser of the anti-immigrant judicial pipeline, Paxton successfully blocked first-time applications after taking his case to a notoriously anti-immigrant courtroom. DACA renewals have been allowed to continue, for now.

But as we’ve noted, that’s also at risk as the 11th anniversary of the DACA program comes up this week, on June 15. Following a hearing earlier this month, Judge Andrew Hanen is expected to issue another ruling that could come at any moment. While we don’t know how Hanen will rule, we do know that this litigation only continues the cruel precariousness that young immigrants have had to endure throughout years of GOP lawsuits. “The uncertainty frustrates not only DACA recipients but their families as well,” The Texas Tribune said.

“I am tired of having to continue to hold my breath as DACA continues to be under threat,” DACA recipient Eliana Fernandez told The Texas Tribune. “Every time there is a hearing or as we await a verdict, I not only have to prepare myself but also my children, my parents, my brother and the rest of my family. This is exhausting and terrifying.”

Itzayana Mondragon, a DACA recipient in Austin, told The Texas Tribune that she remembers her parents having a talk with her about who would take care of her if they were deported. Mondragon has lived in the U.S. since she was 11 months old and knows no other country but this one. But if Republicans are successfully able to kill DACA and revoke work authorizations, driver’s licenses and deportation protections, “Mondragon feels she may have to prepare to have the same talk with her 3-year-old that her parents had with her,” The Texas Tribune said.

“It’s just a lot of stuff that gets in my mind: What’s going to happen to my school? What’s going to happen to my job?” Mondragon told the outlet. “I really depend on DACA. If it ends and I don’t have a driver’s license, what if I’m stopped by the police? What are they gonna do?”

More than 580,000 young people across the nation are currently enrolled in the program, including nearly 100,000 in Texas alone. The U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the University of California San Diego, United We Dream, National Immigration Law Center, and Center for American Progress conduct an annual survey of DACA recipients. Results from the survey show that DACA recipients continue to be indispensable members of American society whose family lives and workplaces will be disrupted if DACA ends,” they said in April.

That survey found that despite the anguish and challenges launched by Republican states, young immigrants continue to thrive. Nearly 18% reported that they bought their first home after obtaining DACA. “Among respondents 25 years and older, this [home ownership] figure increases to 22.4 percent.” Nearly 70% are pursuing a bachelor’s or advanced degree, while more than 83% report they are currently employed. “Among respondents ages 25 and older, the employment rate jumps to 90.7 percent.” Diana Pliego, policy associate at the National Immigration Law Center, called the policy “transformative,” allowing her “to go to school, work, and build a life with my family and loved ones in the U.S.”

DACA “allowed me to get my driver’s license, to have a job, to go to University of Maryland, and to support my family,” Yuna Oh, Political Associate at America’s Voice, wrote at The Baltimore Sun last year. “With DACA, I finally was able to be closer to my American dream, but it is constantly being threatened by Republicans trying to end DACA.”

More than a decade after its announcement by the Obama administration in June 2012, DACA stands as one of the most successful immigration policies in modern U.S. history. Ultimately, these young people (and undocumented communities all across the nation) need permanent protections in the form of a pathway to citizenship. But while we have seen a recent bipartisan bill introduced in the House by Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar and Republican Rep. María Elvira Salazar, we also know that it’s the far-right white nationalists who control that chamber’s agenda. Meanwhile, Texas AG Paxton fulfills their vastly unpopular vision in the courts. In poll after poll, Americans overwhelmingly support Dreamers and DACA. 

“But as tough and lonely as it can be to be undocumented, I remind myself that most Americans agree with me that we need to reform our outdated immigration laws, including creating a path to permanent legal status for DACA recipients like myself,” Oh continued at The Baltimore Sun. “We think that if we lose DACA, we just have to pray to God that there will be a solution for both of us,” Cerda told The Texas Tribune. “We hope that it will be Congress that does something about the situation.” Mondragon told the outlet she’s “learned to love this country .. so why can’t this country learn to love us?”