July court ruling clouds future for DACA recipients

For one Minnesota college student, the action taken by a Texas federal court judge is a source of anxiety

A man stands for a photo with a cityscape behind him.
Carlos Reyes Rojas, DACA recipient, is a senior at Carleton College majoring in political science and minoring in Latin American studies.
Courtesy of Carlos Reyes Rojas

Frustration and uncertainty. Those are the words Carlos Reyes Rojas uses when he talks about the recent ruling by a federal judge in Texas making DACA  — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — illegal.

Reyes Rojas, 21, received DACA when he was 15. 

Born in the Mexican state of Michoacan, Reyes Rojas said he has no memories of Mexico, having been brought to the United States when he was eight months old. Now a senior at Carleton College, with a major in political science and a minor in Latin American studies, Reyes Rojas plans to become an immigration attorney.

But a Texas federal judge’s ruling a few weeks ago has not only thrown Reyes Rojas’s future into uncertainty but also those of all DACA recipients. U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen said DACA was illegal and blocked new applications. The ruling doesn’t cancel existing permits or affect renewals — for the moment.

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Not only is the uncertainty frustrating, but emotionally he feels he is being pulled back and forth.

“You never know what is going to happen at the end of two years when your permit expires,” he said.

That anxiety goes back to 2017 when then-President Donald Trump suspended the program. It took three years and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to say that DACA could continue.

Community members fight President Donald Trump's redaction of DACA.
Protesters march on Franklin Avenue and 22nd Street in Minneapolis to protest then-President Donald Trump's redaction of DACA.
Maria Alejandra Cardona | MPR News 2017

Many people mistakenly believe DACA is a status, said Tim Sanders Szabo, immigration attorney and pro bono manager at the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota.

“It’s more accurately described as a protection,” said Sanders Szabo. “Essentially the Department of Homeland Security saying, for these certain types of individuals we will not remove them from the country.”

But because DACA is not permanent, it can be rescinded at any moment, he said.

DACA recipients are provided work permits and can apply for driver’s licenses, but what it does not provide is a pathway to citizenship.

There are an estimated 700,000 to 800,000 current DACA holders in the U.S.

While he is grateful to have DACA, Reyes Rojas said a permanent solution is needed.

DACA was created to give those children brought to the United States by their parents an opportunity for a better life. But in those nearly 10 years, a permanent solution has not materialized.

“That was the big talking point. It was all deferred action for children. But the thing is, we’re not children anymore. We’re young adults and we have this fear of not being able to live out our lives,” Reyes Rojas said.  “We just can’t be living in this temporary space of time.”

The issue of providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants predates DACA, Sanders Szabo said. The first so-called DREAM Act bill goes back to 2000-2001. 

“I really believe that there is hope for some sort of legislation to be passed,” he said.

There has also been talk of including another similar act in the upcoming reconciliation bill, which would only require a simple majority in the Senate to pass, he said.

“But either way, something needs to happen on a federal level,” said Sanders Szabo “This uncertainty just can’t continue. It’s been nearly a decade of this Limbo, and we need to do something.”

As Reyes Rojas enters his senior year of college, he is figuring out his future and thinking about a career. His current DACA expires next summer — at the same time he graduates. It means he must reapply for a DACA permit during his senior year. 

“Anything can happen between now and next year, anything can change,” he said. “Maybe Congress will pass something, maybe it will get worse. I have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario, instead of preparing for maybe a better future.”

Vicki Adame covers the Latino community for MPR News via Report for America.