Jennifer Arellano awoke Thursday morning to an elated phone call: “You can stay! You can stay!” her best friend shrieked over the line. It was just after 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time, and 20-year-old Arellano, who had anxiously tossed and turned all night, cried tears of relief as the news sank in: The Supreme Court had blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, shielding Arellano and 650,000 other young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Arellano was 2 years old when her family relocated to California from Sinaloa, Mexico, where her father had struggled to make a living as a worker in the sugar cane fields. She has no memory of her brief time there and speaks little Spanish. Yet in the nearly three years since President Donald Trump’s administration announced that it would rescind DACA, Arellano has lived in fear of being uprooted from her life in America and forced to return to Mexico.
“California is my home,” Arellano told HuffPost over the phone from her San Fernando Valley apartment shortly after the ruling was announced.
Trump campaigned in 2016 with a promise to “immediately terminate” the Obama-era immigration program, which grants undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before age 16 temporary work permits and deportation relief. And in 2017, he followed through, although the order to rescind the program was blocked in federal court.
“When Trump got elected, I cried all night because I knew that he would try to do this,” Arellano said. “We’re here to stay.”
DACA does not provide a path to citizenship and does not cover all so-called Dreamers — the young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as kids — and the Supreme Court ruling still leaves recipients at risk should Trump or another president try again to end the program.
But it’s still life-changing. DACA has had a huge effect on hundreds of thousands of lives: Recipients found better-paying jobs, were able to buy houses, get driver’s licenses, attend school and pay millions in taxes. Most of all, they don’t have to be in constant fear of deportation, particularly under a president who has pushed to expel more unauthorized immigrants.
Arellano is in her final year of college, where she studies sociology in hopes of becoming a social worker to support children.
“We’ve been fighting from day one,” she said, “and we’re going to keep fighting.”
As Arellano called her parents to celebrate on Thursday morning, Iridian F. was waking up to the news a few hours away, in the San Francisco Bay Area. She and her husband — both Mexican DACA recipients who are from Jalisco and Morelos, respectively — fell into each other’s arms in bed, weeping in joy.
“We were in the dark for so long. We were scared to even start a future because we didn’t know if we were going to be here,” said 22-year-old Iridian, who asked not to be identified by her full name for privacy reasons. “This is the only home I know.”
Her family fled to the U.S. when she was 7 to escape poverty and cartel violence in Mexico. Now, she’s training to become an emergency medical technician because she wants to help others in need. (There are an estimated 29,000 DACA recipients working in health care.)
“When we found out Trump wanted to end [DACA], it was like a slap in the face. We’re not here to do anything bad; we’re not hurting anybody,” Iridian said. “We’re just working and going to school — that’s all we want.”
Tearing up, she added: “We’re so happy that we can continue to be here and support the USA. We love this place.”
The Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration violated the law in the way it rescinded DACA. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, called the decision to terminate the program an “arbitrary” and “capricious” violation of the law.
But the court left the door open for Trump to try to rescind DACA again in the future, and he can do so before November’s presidential election. Although Democrats are already pushing for long-term legislative protections, actually passing them will be difficult given the GOP-controlled Senate and Trump in the White House.
“Immigrant youth have been leading this movement to get passed through this government a real recognition of their humanity, and that home is here for them. That battle continues,” said Araceli Martínez-Olguín, an attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “Today we celebrate and tomorrow we fight.”
If Congress or the White House do try to push for legislation that helps Dreamers, DACA recipients and activists argue it should not include measures that would hurt other undocumented immigrants. In the past, Trump has conditioned support for Dreamer protections on things like getting a border wall, limiting family-based immigration and gutting asylum.
That’s unacceptable, said Daisy, a DACA recipient from East Africa who has been living outside Minneapolis since she was 5.
“I’ve been here in the U.S. for 19 years, and I believe there should be a pathway for citizenship for us,” said Daisy, who also asked not to be identified by her full name for privacy reasons.
“My next step is to pressure Congress to act, and when we do pressure Congress, I don’t want DACA recipients to concede on something like the border wall — I want them to say, ‘No, we are going to protect these youths.’ I don’t want to be used as a pawn.”
Trump tweeted on Thursday that “now we have to start this process all over again,” suggesting he may try again to end DACA. He’s already cracked down on undocumented immigrants in multiple other ways, from extreme restrictions to asylum at the southwest border, sending asylum seekers to Mexico to await legal proceedings and the infamous family separation program.
Dreamer activists know they need to stay prepared for more from Trump.
“This is undoubtedly a victory, and yet we know it’s not permanent. The reality is that Trump and his administration continue to attack immigrants,” said Greisa Martinez Rosas, a DACA recipient and deputy executive director of United We Dream. “Today’s victory must inspire all of us to continue to fight.”
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