Washington, DC – Chanting “home is here” outside the US Capitol building, dozens of migrants who came to the United States as children and their supporters have called on lawmakers to protect a programme that shields them from deportation.
The protest on Thursday came just hours after a US appeals court affirmed a lower court’s ruling that deemed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme “unlawful” – and leaving the scheme’s future uncertain.
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“I live with constant fear every single day,” Monica Camacho, who came to the US from Mexico as a child and received DACA in 2013, said over speakerphone during the rally, which was livestreamed.
Camacho said receiving DACA – a status she has to renew every two years – enabled her to buy a house and become a teacher, but the fact that the programme is vulnerable to legal challenges and political whims puts her and other recipients in limbo.
“I am tired of constantly having to explain to politicians my worth,” Camacho said.
DACA was created in 2012 under the administration of then-President Barack Obama. It provides safety from deportation to undocumented immigrants who came to the US as minors, and allows them to work, study, open businesses and get driver’s licences, among other things.
But DACA was passed through executive action after Congress failed to pass the American Dream and Promise Act, a bill that aimed to put DACA recipients, often referred to as “Dreamers“, on a path to US citizenship.
Last year, a US district judge in Texas declared DACA illegal, saying the programme had not gone through the required public notice and comment periods. Judge Andrew Hanen blocked new applications for DACA, but allowed the more than 600,000 people currently enrolled in the programme to continue benefitting from it.
The 5th Circuit upheld Judge Hanen's decision that the executive branch doesn't have the legal authority to help DACA recipients because Congress hasn't given it. So, Congress can give it now. 2/
— Theresa Cardinal Brown (@BPC_TBrown) October 6, 2022
Wednesday’s appeals court decision affirmed that 2021 ruling – allowing those currently enrolled in DACA to maintain and renew their status, but continuing to bar new applications.
The appeals court also ordered Hanen to go over revisions to the programme introduced by President Joe Biden’s administration last month.
In September, the Biden administration proposed changes to DACA that would “preserve and fortify” the programme by making it subject to public comments and therefore more likely to survive future legal challenges.
Biden, who as candidate pledged to protect Dreamers, said he was “disappointed” by the appeals court’s ruling. “The court’s stay provides a temporary reprieve for DACA recipients but one thing remains clear: the lives of Dreamers remain in limbo,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
“And while we will use the tools we have to allow Dreamers to live and work in the only country they know as home, it is long past time for Congress to pass permanent protections for Dreamers, including a pathway to citizenship,” Biden said.
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said the Biden administration is currently reviewing the court’s decision and would work with the Department of Justice on the next steps.
I am deeply disappointed by today’s #DACA ruling and the ongoing uncertainty it creates for families and communities across the country.
We are currently reviewing the court’s decision and will work with @TheJusticeDept on an appropriate legal response.
— Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas (@SecMayorkas) October 6, 2022
Dreamers, meanwhile, have said they are tired of constantly worrying about their future.
Bruna Sollod, 31, came to the US from Brazil as a child. She got DACA 10 years ago, which enabled her to advance her career, get a job in politics, and have access to healthcare. But persistent fears about the future have been all-consuming, she said.
“DACA has always been flawed. We’ve always lived in this two-year increment and it has been exhausting,” Sollod told Al Jazeera. “It feels like we are constantly on a rollercoaster and we don’t ever get to come off,” she said. “It’s emotionally draining.”
Immigrant advocates also slammed this week’s court decision, and called on Congress to pass legislation that would give Dreamers permanent protections.
“This is a ghastly decision and a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of young people who live, work, and worship among us day in and day out,” said Vanessa Cardenas, deputy director of America’s Voice, a progressive pro-immigrant group.
“The uncertainty around DACA hurts people and families across our nation, it hurts our economy and the thousands of employers who rely on valued DACA employees, and undermines our national cohesiveness,” Cardenas said in a statement.
Diana Pliego, 28, a policy associate at the National Immigration Law Center, said she came to the US from Mexico at age three and received DACA when she turned 18. “I have a lot of conflicted feelings,” Pliego told Al Jazeera, about the court’s decision.
“I felt relief that renewals will get to continue, but I also felt a lot of frustration and anger because we’re here again,” she said. “And I lost count of how many times we sat here [after] a court decision that could or could not pull the rug from under us and affect our futures.”