by Greg Smith
“Oh, I didn’t realize that.” The words landed softly on my ear, almost inaudible. That was all she could muster. I guess there really wasn’t much more she could say.
The news on July 16, 2021 out of a federal district court in Texas hit the immigration world like a ton of bricks. And it fell heaviest on Dreamers, the name given to the hundreds of thousands of young people brought to this country before age 16.
The court ruled that DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was illegal and that all new DACA applications – even those pending a decision before United States Citizenship and Immigration Services – were blocked. For now the ruling did not take DACA away from those who’ve already been granted its protections and right to work legally, nor did it deny current DACA holders from renewing their grant of DACA when the time comes.
But it stopped all new DACA applications in their tracks – permanently.
This is what blew away the young Dreamer I spoke with. We filed her DACA application in February 2021, but USCIS had not yet granted her DACA. Oftentimes court rulings affecting immigration processes or benefits do not apply to applications already filed with USCIS, but not this time. In one fell swoop, DACA was ruled illegal and therefore all new applications and indeed the program itself was brought to a swift, callous, and merciless death.
By eliminating DACA, the ruling plunged a dagger into the hearts of 600,000 to 700,000 potential DACA applicants, young people who had been counting on DACA to access a job, or affordable college tuition, or a state-issued driver’s license, so many looking forward to stepping out of the shadows and into the light of a full life and greater social integration.
I told my young Dreamer that we would keep her file open in the event the ruling were reversed on appeal. I told her we would pray and not give up hope. I told her we would fight for her and all Dreamers yearning to breathe free and without fear in the only country they have ever known.
The fight, though, has proven difficult, and an outcome giving Dreamers the right to call the United States their home legally and officially won’t come easy. What can you and I do to stand with Dreamers in their quest to build their lives in the US without fear? Here are a few suggestions:
- Let your US Representative and Senators know you stand with Dreamers. Let them know your extreme disappointment and displeasure that Congress has yet to fulfill the wish of 72% of Americans who favor protections and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. You can find how to contact your Representative here and your Senators here.
- Look in your community for pro-DACA and pro-Dreamer groups working on a solution to this needless quagmire, and support and/or join their efforts. Some great nationally-focused groups to check out are United We Dream, Fwd.us, and Unidos US
- Spread the news through social media, the op-ed section of your local newspaper, and other means about the need for a solution that protects and supports Dreamers. Here’s a resource providing tips for writing a strong op-ed, and here’s a link to the district court ruling on DACA.
- Get to know what the Bible says about welcoming the immigrant. Read Christopher B. Harbin’s On Immigration for an extensive, well-researched treatment of the Bible’s embrace of the immigrant and immigration.
- As you come to know Dreamers, both those who already have DACA and those who are now barred from obtaining a grant of DACA, let them know of your support and prayers. Ask them personally how you can enhance your support. Become a trusted friend with a listening ear. Do unto your immigrant neighbors, friends, and colleagues what you would have your immigrant neighbors, friends, and colleagues do unto you.
Two months have passed since that conversation with this young Dreamer. She’s begun another year of high school — her senior year, when she should be eagerly anticipating the same next steps as her classmates after graduation — college, a job, driving. And yet she’s still in limbo, still in the shadows, with no solution in sight.
Dr. Greg Smith serves as an Accredited Representative through the Department of Justice and assists many immigrants and refugees with low-cost immigration legal assistance.