DACA ‘deadline’ comes and goes as Utah’s undocumented immigrants struggle to cope with an uncertain future

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Alonso R. Reyna Rivarola at the University of Utah's new Dream Center, Friday August 18, 2017. Rivarola is a recipient of DACA who works at the University of Utah as the Dream Program coordinator in the Office of Engagement. He works to support undocumented students (with and without DACA) during their educational journey.

Alonso Reyna Rivarola is one of hundreds of thousands of people planning his future based on “ifs.”

If nothing changes legislatively in the next nine days, he’ll be able to apply for a renewal of his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. If his renewal application is accepted, he can continue to pursue his education by participating in the sociology doctorate program, which he’s already been accepted into, at the University of Utah.

But if he’s not able to renew DACA, he’ll have to have a “plan B, C and D,” he said Monday.

For Reyna Rivarola and other undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, the future is just as uncertain as it was six months ago — when President Donald Trump first announced plans to rescind the program and declared March 5 as the final day for DACA renewal applications to be approved.

Some Utah lawmakers initially applauded the move to revoke Obama-era protections for immigrants brought to the country as children, which allowed them to legally attend school and work. DACA’s initial implementation had been an executive overreach, the legislators said, and it should be Congress’ responsibility to find a better, more permanent solution.

Despite poll after poll showing that the majority of Americans favor providing DACA recipients with a pathway to legal residency, lawmakers have yet to pass a legislative solution.

“Even at the local level, all of our [Utah] representatives support a different bill,” Reyna Rivarola said. “Our own congressmen and [congress]woman and senators could not come together on this. That was really disappointing.”

Utah’s 4th District Rep. Mia Love supports the USA Act — a bipartisan effort that would protect DACA recipients from deportation while securing the U.S. border — and undoubtedly wants legislation that provides DACA recipients with a pathway of citizenship, she told The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board last month.

She also said Trump was within his rights to revoke the legislation: “When a president gives something, they can also take that away.”

Love sees Trump’s move as an opportunity. “This is a time where we can fix the problem — actually fix it.”

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Mia Love will speak to the Tribune ed board.

DACA recipients are grateful that a court order from a federal judge in California temporarily stopped them from being targeted for deportation, said Reyna Rivarola, who works with students at the U. as the program coordinator in the Dream Center. But the ruling is not a permanent solution.

“Dreamers” — as young, undocumented immigrants are often called — “have been waiting 17 years for a permanent solution,” he said. “... As hard as it is to not know what’s going to happen, I’m planning my life as if I were able to renew DACA.”

Program beneficiaries have developed coping skills to help them to endure a difficult political climate, Reyna Rivarola said, just as one learns to cope with anxiety and stress. They look at one another, shrug and keep going to class, he said.

He also pointed out groups other than recipients who have been affected by the politics surrounding DACA. One man he knows was born a month too early to qualify, Reyna Rivarola said, and since September, no one new has been permitted to apply for the program.

“What happens to those high school sophomores, who were looking forward to applying for DACA and going to school and going to work?” he asked. “What happens to those children?”

Though the court ruling took the sting out of Trump’s deadline, it’s continued to serve as “a constant reminder that we’re not fully integrated into society,” Reyna Rivarola said, “even though we want to be.”

Despite the uncertainty, he said, the very nickname “Dreamers” implies hope.

I look around, and I can assure you that a lot of these people who are building this country are immigrants,” Reyna Rivarola said. “We are still hopeful that we will work out a permanent solution — and hopefully sooner, not later.”