(WASHINGTON) — More than 100 immigrant youth and allies rallied in front of Capitol Hill Thursday for a permanent pathway to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, following a federal appeals court’s ruling against the program’s legality.
A Fifth Circuit Court allowed DACA’s protections to remain in place in a Wednesday decision, at least temporarily, while a lower court conducts further review in light of the Biden administration’s recent efforts to codify the policy into administrative law.
During the Thursday protest, around a dozen people, including several individuals on DACA, were arrested for blocking the street in front of Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office.
Luz Chavez, 21, the Maryland Youth Organizer at United We Dream and a DACA recipient who immigrated from Bolivia, said she joined the rally because she was tired of perpetually “feeling in limbo.”
“I came [to the U.S.] with my family,” Chavez told ABC News. “We were escaping political violence that was happening in our country at the time. Living here is only the only place I’ve known. I started school here, and I started elementary school and went to college here.”
For many immigrant youth, DACA was a lifeline, allowing them to legally remain and work in the country.
Before the program’s inception in 2012, Cindy Kolade, 29, a DACA recipient who immigrated from the Ivory Coast, said she had to pay her school tuition out of pocket, unable to afford the cost of her education.
“But when DACA came, I was able to get in-state tuition, which took a lot of burden for my family. With DACA I’ve been able to go to school,” she told ABC News.
During the pandemic, Kolade served as an essential health worker in a hospital’s microbiology department. She is currently a clinical laboratory technician at MedStar Health and the University of Maryland.
The potential discontinuation of DACA would have far-reaching consequences for young immigrants on the program, said Jose Coronado Flores, 25, a DACA recipient who immigrated from Guatemala when he was four years old.
“It will mean that I can no longer work. It would mean that I will have no protection. I was blessed to go to Harvard and study Comparative Literature. I even have my own book,” he told ABC News said. “To know that I won’t even be able to legitimately work in the United States because of court ruling after a program that’s been alive for 10 years, that’s kind of crazy.”
“A lot of people that I know who are undocumented or have DACA, they have this escape plan. They know, if they had to get out of any situation, they could,” he added. “And that’s a scary thing to always have to think about.”
Kolade said it’s this uncertainty surrounding her future that scares her the most.
“At this point, I do not know, and that’s where we are right now because it could mean that I will be deported or it can mean that I will lose everything that I’ve built here because this is my home,” she said.
Sergio Gonzales, executive director of the Immigration Hub, said political “punditry” surrounding DACA has obscured the human impact of the program’s impending rescission, should the case reach the Supreme Court.
“Republican leaders are using the same playbook with DACA that was used with abortion, which is to end the protections offered by DACA through an increasingly rightward shifting court,” he said. “And we now are on the precipice of that actually happening.”
With the program being remanded back to Judge Andrew Hanen for review, immigration attorney Benjamin Osorio said he’s personally optimistic the latest DACA regulations will hold but that it’s time for a “clean DACA bill.”
“It’s just very frustrating again, when I think there’s a majority of Americans who side with… providing these kids some type of permanent protection and then they’re being used as sort of a ping pong political pawn here,” Osorio told ABC News.
However, the fight for many DACA recipients is greater than the program itself.
Against the backdrop of the upcoming midterm elections, Jossie Flor Sapunar, the communications director for CASA, an immigrant advocacy organization, said she hoped the protest would call attention to the urgency of creating a pathway to citizenship for all immigrants through legislative action.
“Getting arrested in this country is putting your life on the line and putting your life in the hands of police officers,” Sapunar said. “And so for someone with DACA to get arrested, it shows that they are willing to sacrifice everything that they have in the United States so that members of Congress can hear that citizenship is the only solution for people with that status.”
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