Kansas City area DACA recipients and immigration attorneys react to Thursday’s 5-4 decision to uphold the program, which grants temporary protection from deportation for those brought to the United States without authorization as children.
by Laura Ziegler and Jodi Fortino, KCUR and Kansas News Service
Thousands of so-called “Dreamers” in Kansas and Missouri will be protected for the time being.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Trump administration could not move forward with its plan to end the 2012 program known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Kansas City attorney Rekha Sharma-Crawford has counseled hundreds of immigrants about the program in the last eight years.
“For the hundreds or maybe even thousands of DACA recipients here locally, this is a day of relief, that they can finally feel like that constant waiting on the judge’s decision is over,” she said.
There are more than 6,800 DACA recipients in the state of Kansas and more than 3,500 in Missouri, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Immigration lawyers, activists, and advocates, however, believe those numbers do not reflect the total number who came to the country at a young age and are now currently working or studying in the United States.
The 5-4 decision does not indefinitely clear DACA recipients. Sharma-Crawford said the administration has the power to come back at a later time and undo the program.
“I don’t think there is time during this administration, especially with the election so close,” she said. “But Dreamers are still at risk as long as Congress fails to act. So the Supreme Court today offered a ray of sunshine in a very dark time but I don’t think it’s all over yet.”
The DREAM Act was first introduced into Congress in 2001. It was designed to allow temporary legal status to immigrants who entered the United States as minors and meet certain criteria. Despite years of debate, Congress has failed to pass the law.
Maria Franco is a senior engineering student at UMKC and a DACA recipient. She moved to the U.S. from Mexico with her family when she was 2 years old
For Franco, the ruling doesn’t mean activists can relax. She says there will still be fear among DACA recipients because it’s clear there are those who still want to overturn the program.
“It’s a big sigh of relief, for sure, because now we don’t have to worry until they try it again,” she said in response to the Supreme Court ruling. “It’s a little scary. The fact that the ruling was five to four means there are four judges that are supporting Trump basically.”
Franco said the Trump administration’s attempts to block DACA have impacted many of her friends, who are now not allowed to apply.
“I’m trying to talk to some lawyers to see, ‘Hey guys, when can we start having new applicants apply?’ Because I know so many kids that need to apply to the program so they can stay at least protected for a little bit,” she said. “Even if it is for two years, so they can go to college and get a job so they can pay for school.”
Franco said the recent protests in support of the black community will help those Latino activists and their allies.
“More people are going to start pushing forward DACA and the immigrants,” she said. “We’re getting a team to try to advocate for that and see what we can do since Black Lives Matter is also on board and there is so much going on in the world right now.”
Complicated logistics for the young adults who have received DACA
The DACA program applies to those who came to the United States before they were 16 in 2012, and have lived here for at least 5 years. Recipients have to have been enrolled in high school or college and without any history of serious crime.
Zach Roberson is an immigration lawyer in Olathe, Kansas, who has counseled dozens of DACA recipients. He says he was pleasantly surprised by today’s ruling.
“It’s going to help a lot of my clients, obviously, and I’ve already gotten several calls that people are very happy,” he said Thursday morning.
But he reitereated this is not the end of the road for DACA recipients.
In his ruling, Chief Justice Roberts said, “We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies. We address only whether the agency [Department of Homeland Security] complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.”
Roberson said this still leaves DACA recipients in limbo, wondering if their status will later be denied, and exactly how the Trump administration and Congress will react.
“There is still a lot we will be sorting out for some time,” Roberson said.
Irene Caudillo, president and CEO of El Centro, said the agency has supported hundreds of DACA recipients in Wyandotte and Johnson counties with thousands of dollars in application and renewal fees. Many of these young people have for many years worked on the front lines of health care, education and essential jobs.
In spite of the uncertainty that lingers for those with DACA status in Thursday’s decision, she says today is a happy day.
“We are grateful. We cried. We cheered,” she said. “We are excited for the many young people who have only known Kansas City as their only residency and community.”
Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer at KCUR. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach her on Twitter @laurazig.
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.