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Texas Dreamers Breathe ‘A Sigh Of Relief’ After Federal Judge Orders A Full Restoration Of DACA

DACA rally organized by United We Dream. Austin, TX Nov. 12, 2019 | Credit: Texas Organizing Project
Texas Organizing Project
DACA rally organized by United We Dream. Austin, TX Nov. 12, 2019 | Credit: Texas Organizing Project

A federal judge on Friday ordered the Trump administration to fully restore the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects unauthorized immigrants who came to the U.S. as children from deportation.

Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn directed the Department of Homeland Security to post online a public notice within three days that it is accepting new applications for the program and reversing changes made under Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, dealing another blow to the Trump administration’s attempts to end and limit the program.

On Saturday, DHS said it would abide by the decision while it worked on an appeal.

The order opens up the DACA program to new applicants for the first time since President Donald Trump attempted to end the program in September 2017. Roughly 300,000 immigrants, including 86,000 in Texas, were estimated to be potentially eligible, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Dreamers across Texas welcomed the news as a moment of relief in the years-long limbo they face, but they continued seeking a more permanent solution.

“I definitely immediately thought about all the people in our community who come to us and are fully eligible for the program but they’re not able to partake in those benefits and it just really hinders their ability to plan long term,” said Emma Chalott Barron, a 24-year-old DACA recipient who has helped others maneuver the program with the North Texas Dream Team.

The U.S. Supreme Court deemed the Trump administration's attempts to awful the program unlawful in June. But Wolf issued a memo in July, announcing DHS would not accept new applications while it reviewed the program.

Ana Salinas, a 31-year-old DACA recipient and teaching assistant in Laredo, thought about students and other immigrants who have long hoped to apply for DACA.

“They were reaching out to me with questions, and it was hard to let them know that, unfortunately, they were not able to apply for the first time,” said Salinas, a board member of the Laredo Immigrant Alliance. “But now with this news, I’m extremely happy and I’m hoping it’s just a small step to something better.”

Wolf also shortened DACA work permits from two years to one year, requiring DACA recipients to apply and pay increasingly high fees to renew more frequently. The reversal of this change brings economic relief to recipients like Salinas.

“It would have been a big expense,” she said. “I was afraid of if I was going to be able to maintain it, because either I save for that or I pay my rent, pay my bills. My salary is not that big.”

Garaufis’ order also allows DACA recipients to once again apply for advance parole or permission to travel abroad for education, work or humanitarian purposes and legally return to the U.S. under the discretion of DHS agencies. Advance parole gave Chalott Barron the opportunity to study abroad in 2016 before Trump’s rollback of DACA.

“I know how illuminating that experience can be,” she said. “It can expand career advancement opportunities for folks, so I know many of us are breathing a sigh of relief to be able to take advantage of that as well.”

But both Salinas and Chalott Barron say they’re not letting their guard down as the program continues to face a legal challenge in a Texas federal court.

“The ups and downs of these court orders and these court announcements is that we have a brief moment of joy one day and then we have to prepare for the fact that someone can challenge the program again,” Chalott Barron said. “Until we have some form of legislation that not only protects us but the rest of our community, I think it’s just going to be a continuing pattern of ups and downs.”

They hope the Biden administration will address the insecurity of the program and expand protections for other unauthorized immigrants.

“We’ve been promised so many times,” Salinas said. “And we want to see something, and hopefully we can see a change with this administration, and a positive one. A real solution, not just a band-aid.”

Copyright 2020 Texas Public Radio

María Méndez reports for Texas Public Radio from the border city of Laredo where she covers business issues from an area that is now the nation’s top trade hub. She knows Texas well. Méndez has reported on the state’s diverse communities and tumultuous politics through internships at the Austin American-Statesman, The Texas Tribune and The Dallas Morning News. She also participated in NPR’s Next Generation Radio program while studying at the University of Texas at Austin. At UT, she wrote for The Daily Texan and helped launch diversity initiatives, including two collaborative series on undocumented and first-generation college students. One of her stories for these series won an award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She spent the last year reporting for The Dallas Morning News as a summer breaking news intern and then as a fellow in the paper’s capital bureau in Austin. She is a native of Guanajuato in Central Mexico.