When the country’s highest court decides the fate of a program that protects undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children from deportation, “it’s really going to be life changing” for the roughly 9,700 “Dreamers” in Utah, Ciriac Alvarez Valle said.
“Because we’re able to go to work in a higher paying job ... (DACA recipients) have oftentimes been the breadwinners of households or supported their family members. And now it will be a lot more difficult for those DACA recipients to continue working because it won’t be the same,” said Alvarez Valle, a policy analyst with Voices for Utah Children and a DACA recipient herself.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce its ruling this month in a case that will determine whether the Trump administration can shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was created in 2012 under President Barack Obama through executive action.
Nearly three years have passed since President Donald Trump announced in 2017 plans to end DACA, calling the program “unconstitutional.” Trump said he was concerned for the “millions of Americans victimized by this unfair system,” and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the program “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs,” The New York Times reported at the time.
Trump encouraged Congress to pass a replacement, but efforts, including those sponsored by former Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that would provide a path to citizenship, have failed.
A 2018 poll showed a majority of Utahns want a fix for “Dreamers” to allow them to stay. Gov. Gary Herbert joined a group of bipartisan governors asking congressional leaders to protect DACA recipients after Trump’s decision in 2017.
After a series of legal challenges, oral arguments in the case, Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California, were held last fall.
“Nobody knows for sure how the Supreme Court is going to rule, but most predictions are that the Supreme Court will find that the Trump administration has the legal authority to terminate DACA," said Leonor Perretta, an immigration attorney in Utah.
Perretta and Alvarez Valle spoke about the potential outcomes and resources for DACA recipients in preparation of the upcoming ruling in a video with the University of Utah’s Dream Center in late May. The center plans to host another virtual meeting after a decision is issued.
If the Supreme Court sides with the Trump administration, “then the question becomes what’s going to happen with the approximately 650,000 current DACA recipients?” Perretta said. While there are “several different scenarios that could occur,” the most likely one is that there will be “some sort of wind down period,” she said.
In the meantime, “it’s critical that if DACA recipients have some other form of immigration relief, that they explore those options right away with an immigration attorney,” Perretta said. Recipients should also consider renewing their DACA status.
“It’s likely that applications that are pending on the date of the decision will be adjudicated,” Perretta said.
Alvarez Valle has compiled a list of resources. That includes United We Dream, which has a toolkit people can use for their renewal. SimpleCitizen is another resource. The Mexican Consulate of Salt Lake City can help Mexican citizens pay SimpleCitizen’s $50 preparation cost by calling 801-521-8502, she said. Those who are not Mexican citizens and need financial assistance can email Moe Hickey at firstname.lastname@example.org to apply for a DACA renewal scholarship. Local community organizations, including Comunidades Unidas, Holy Cross Ministries and Catholic Community Services, can also assist with the application process, she said.
Comunidades Unidas has seen an increase in people coming to the West Valley City nonprofit for help renewing their DACA status in recent months, according to Mayra Cedano, executive director. She and her staff have also been preparing how to best support their community members depending on the outcome of the case.
The Supreme Court’s ruling comes at an already stressful time during the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis, as DACA recipients and other immigrants often work frontline jobs in the health care industry, grocery stores and meatpacking plants.
“It’s definitely been a long fight” leading up to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Cedano said. She and Alvarez Valle have joined other who have marched, filed petitions and shared their stories in an effort to find a more permanent solution for DACA recipients. It’s been exhausting and frustrating, they said.
Regardless of how the justices rule, though, Cedano said that she and others will continue to advocate for DACA recipients and other immigrants.