A safety thread. That’s how Carlos Yanez describes the temporary immigration program that grants him relief from deportation and a two-year work permit.
That safety thread, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, holds him and nearly 700,000 other immigrants nationwide. DACA was created by executive action in June 2012 for immigrants under age 31 who arrived in the country before turning 16, are students or have a high school education and no criminal record. In September 2017, the Trump Administration announced it was officially ending the program.
“I say it’s a safety thread because it’s not certain, but it gives us enough protection to where we are able to continue with our daily lives in a kind of normal sense,” Yanez said. “But the government can take away the permit anytime when they want.”
On Tuesday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case challenging the termination of DACA. The high court’s decision will be life-changing, many DACA recipients from Arizona said.
Yanez is a junior at Arizona State University. The 20-year-old traveled to Washington, D.C. over the weekend with a group of DACA beneficiaries as part of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, a group that advocates for undocumented immigrant families.
“I think this is the fight of our lives,” Yanez said. A group of nine justices, he added, “will decide all of our futures.”
On Tuesday morning, Karina Ruiz, executive director of ADAC, walked up the steps and past the pillars of the Supreme Court building with other DACA recipients and undocumented parents from around the country.
Behind her was a large group of undocumented youth and immigrant advocates who had gathered outside the Supreme Court since Sunday. That gathering, she said, was empowering.
Inside the court building, Ruiz took a seat. She said she watched the justices, attorneys for the Department of Homeland Security and lawyers for the businesses and civil rights groups suing the government gloss over “people’s lives” and focus on legalities.
Throughout the hour-and-a-half hearing, she said her body ached. First the pain was in her wrist, then neck and later in her fingers.
“I felt so uncomfortable. They didn’t talk about what’s most important, which are my people’s stories,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz, who has benefited from DACA since 2013, said she felt frustrated.
“It was really heavy to see that our stories were not even discussed, the humanitarian component of people’s plights,” Ruiz told Arizona Mirror. “It was very technical and I felt very frustrated that that happened. I was very frustrated that my life is at stake and they are talking about technicalities.”
The case before the Supreme Court stems from three lawsuits challenging the termination of DACA filed in California, the District of Columbia and New York. Those lower courts prohibited the government from phasing out the immigration program. Those lawsuits argued that ending the DACA program violated the rights of those covered by its benefits and ran counter to a federal law governing administrative agencies, according to SCOTUSblog.
In August, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich joined other Republican attorneys general in a legal brief supporting the Trump administration’s move to end DACA. In October, Arizona universities and the cities of Phoenix and Tucson signed on to legal briefs stating DACA recipients are an integral part of their communities.
On Tuesday, the justices considered whether the court has the authority to review the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA and, if so, whether the decision to end DACA is legal.
To Korina Iribe, these legal arguments are personal. Iribe has had a work permit and deferred deportation since 2012. The past two years of uncertainty around DACA have been a “roller coaster,” she said. She thinks about her American citizen 4-year-old son, Iker, whose dad also benefits from DACA.
“We are his only support system here. Are we going to be able to continue to be here? Are we going to change work?” Iribe said.
Iribe also traveled to D.C. to attend the oral arguments in the DACA case at the Supreme Court. Ahead of her trip, she shared that, even in times of uncertainty, she wants to be visible.
“This whole attack on DACA has been an attempt to scare and silence this community. We have gained so much power in sharing our stories, and in being bold and showing up,” she said. “This is going to be an important day to continue to do that, to say, ‘We are here, these are our stories, these are our faces’. So the public can see, the justices can see that these are real lives.”
When the hearing concluded on Tuesday, a group of immigrant youth, undocumented parents and attorneys walked hand-in-hand ouside the Supreme Court building and faced the gathering.
Ruiz locked arms with Abril Gallardo, another community leader from Arizona who also benefits from DACA. Together they chanted, “Home is here!” and “Undocumented, unafraid!”
Historic moment as #DACA recipients and plaintiffs walk down the steps of the Supreme Court after oral arguments.
— FWD.us (@FWDus) November 12, 2019
“This is our home,” Gallardo said. “This is where we need to be, we risked our lives to be here. We are not giving up.”
Gallardo remembers crossing the desert with her father, mother and two younger brothers. The moon was bright the night she arrived in the U.S. at the age of 12. She also remember her blistered feet sinking in soft sand as she ran.
Arizona has 24,700 residents who benefit from DACA, often known as dreamers. Almost 90% of Arizonans with DACA live in the Phoenix-metro area, according to June 30 figures from the federal government.
Gallardo, Ruiz, Iribe and Yanez all stressed that their trip to D.C. wasn’t only to advocate for DACA: They also want thousands of teenage undocumented immigrants who are not covered by DACA and their parents to have an opportunity to stay and thrive in the country.
“We do not want to get a protection at the expense of other immigrants being separated from their families,” Ruiz said.
A ruling from the Supreme Court is expected next year.
Meanwhile, the government is still processing DACA renewals.