Anel Medina, a 28-year-old oncology nurse in Chester County, has been living with both the protection and uncertainty provided by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for much of her adult life.
When she was five years old, her mother brought her to the United States from Mexico.
Now she’s one of more than 4,700 DACA recipients living in Pennsylvania who are using the temporary protection from deportation to build a stable life in America — getting formal work authorization and a driver’s license. President Obama created DACA by executive order in 2012.
Tuesday morning, Medina will join the flow of protestors marching through Washington, D.C. as the future of that program goes before the U.S. Supreme Court. The court has taken up three lawsuits that followed a 2017 Trump administration decision to pause the program and, ultimately, phase out all protections entirely. Legal arguments in the suits rest on clarifying the power of a president to make immigration policy decisions.
“I feel a great social responsibility to be here,” said Medina, who took off of work, with the support of her co-workers, to rally in D.C. “Especially since I have a little cousin who just turned 16 who can’t apply.”
If the Trump administration wins, immigrants’ rights advocates fear nearly 700,000 people, mostly in their mid-20s, will be cast out of the country they call home, potentially causing chaos for families, communities, and employers. While the program has enjoyed bipartisan support, it has also suffered from criticism over the unilateral action taken to create it, and Congress has repeatedly failed to codify the program into law.
In court documents filed this summer, the U.S. Department of Justice argued that the program “is unlawful” and that the executive branch should “leave the creation of policies as significant as DACA to Congress.”
Advocates of DACA also acknowledge that the fate of the program remains tenuous without action from lawmakers.
“[Restoring DACA] is important and it needs to happen now, because it’s affecting lives now,” said Medina. “But, we need legislation.”
In June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the latest version of the DREAM Act, legislation that would create a path to a green card for existing DACA recipients, as well as 1.4 million people who could be eligible under the same terms of the program. It has not come for a vote in the U.S. Senate.
‘How to hustle’
Immigrants who disclosed personal information to the federal government to qualify for DACA also have questions about how that information could be used in the event it goes away.
“A lot of people were afraid to even apply because of [concerns] the data could be used against them,” said Blanca Pacheco, with the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, an immigrants’ rights group. “It’s really hard to know … Are they going to chase them? People are really afraid of that.”
A ruling is not expected until mid-2020. In the meantime, people with DACA can maintain the status quo. Under a federal court injunction, people who applied for the deferred action before the program was paused could continue to renew during the court battles, but new people who aged into the terms of the program could not join it.
Of the states that border Pennsylvania, New York has the largest number of DACA holders, with more than 30,000, followed by New Jersey with more than 17,000. One of the federal plaintiffs is a Princeton University student, and another is the school itself.
Carlos Castro Miranda, a 25-year-old from Maple Shade, New Jersey, said after so much uncertainty over the future of the executive order, a kind of resignation has set in.
“When Trump rescinded the program in 2017-2018 that really hit me hard,” he said. He was younger, and DACA allowed him to work so he could put himself through college.
Now that he has graduated from Temple University, achieving his dream of working in the advertising industry, he said some of his earlier fears have subsided.
“I’ve built a thicker skin and I know that no matter what happens, I can get through this,” he said. “All immigrants are resilient. We know how to hustle.”