“I never wanted to live in fear as an immigrant after our mom brought us here so we wouldn’t starve.”
At least 24,000 Arizonans celebrated U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Thursday to reject the Trump Administration’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and deport its beneficiaries.
The 5-4 ruling by the sharply divided court means close to 650,000 immigrants who were in danger of being deported can breathe a sigh of relief – for now. Chief Justice John Roberts said that the administration can still terminate the DACA program in the future, it just went about it the wrong way this time.
“The question in this case has always been not about whether the Trump administration could terminate DACA, because everyone agrees that it can,” Roberts wrote. “The question is whether the Trump administration went about it the right way here, and the answer is no.”
Roberts wrote that even if it was determined that DACA was illegal, it could not just end the program without taking into account the impact on recipients who have “enrolled in degree programs, embarked on careers, started businesses, purchased homes, and even married and had children,” while relying on DACA protection. He also pointed to the potential economic impact of hundreds of billions of dollars in lost sales and taxes to businesses and governments.
The Copper Courier spoke with three DACA recipients who lived in uncertainty for months while awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling.
For almost three years, Phoenix resident Jennifer Rodriguez Garcia said she has lived with the fear immigration officials will deport her to a country she has never known and separate her from her 2-year-old daughter.
“Today I can breathe again,” Rodriguez Garcia said, after learning that the Supreme Court reversed the Trump administration’s plan to end DACA. “It’s not only me that I think about — it’s my daughter mostly,” she said.
Rodriguez Garcia was just 11 months old when she was brought to America, and said she had no idea she was not a citizen until she was 6 and couldn’t join her younger siblings, who were born in America, when visiting their family in Mexico.
“Having my brothers being from here, they never saw the struggle that I have gone through with the DACA program,” she said.
She could have applied in 2012, when she was a senior in high school, but fell into depression that year and dropped out, after realizing she couldn’t afford college or the fee to apply for DACA. But after encouragement from her mother, Rodriguez Garcia finished her GED and began working at a medical office to save up money to apply for DACA – which she did in 2014.
She got pregnant in 2017, “and that’s when Trump announced that he wanted to end DACA.”
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, what’s going to happen? Am I going to have my baby in Mexico? Like what am I going to do?” she said. “At that time they said that DACA renewal wasn’t happening anymore, and my renewal got denied. So I didn’t have any DACA for at least five months.”
Eventually, she was able to get her DACA status back and, after today’s ruling she said she feels “more confident to keep fighting and keep going.”
“I do see a positive outcome out of this with the positive momentum that we have,” said Rodriguez Garcia, who admits to being gloomy while awaiting Thursday’s decision.
“It is great to have the anxiety over.”
Born in Buenos Aires, Belen Sisa and her family came to the United States as tourists when she was 6 and overstayed their visas. At the time, Argentina was in the midst of an economic recession.
The family settled in Arizona, where Belen grew up in the Phoenix area.
While majoring in political science and history at Arizona State University, she co-founded the organization Undocumented Students for Education Equity. She also became politically active as a DACA recipient, helping organize student marches and protesting deportations of immigrants.
“I would say that the biggest benefit DACA gave me was a sense of empowerment and control over my future,” Sisa said. “The moment DACA was announced it was a catalyst to my involvement in activism and politics that eventually led me to where I am and who I am now. It gave many of us the confidence to fight for more and that is what we are doing now.”
Sisa said she was overjoyed by the high court’s ruling.
“It’s great to know that DACA lives and we can continue our fight,” Sisa said. “It is great to have the anxiety over.”
Waiting on pins and needles
Phoenix political consultant Tony Valdovinos didn’t learn he was born in Colima, Mexico, and brought to the U.S. illegally when he was 2 until he tried to join the Marine Corps at 18. He said the family had immigrated to the U.S. because his father was having problems finding work amid slowing economic growth.
Valdovinos became involved in politics and, after working on a local campaign in 2012, an attorney began helping him and some other young immigrants get together all their documents so they could apply for the DACA program. He later served as a campaign manager for Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego when she first ran for City Council.
A local musical group called “Americano!,” which played to sold-out audiences earlier this year, was inspired by Valdovinos’ life.
After the court ruled on Thursday, Valdovinos said he could better focus on the campaign of Yassamin Ansari, a Phoenix City Council candidate.
“It was such a terrible standoff, waiting for a decision for so long without being able to do anything,” Valdovinos said. “Everything we knew could change, so I decided to stay focused on my life and getting our story out to the world. I never wanted to live in fear as an immigrant after our mom brought us here so we wouldn’t starve.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.