DACA Supreme Court ruling a relief for supporters, but it’s far from a permanent solution

Natalia E. Contreras | Indianapolis Star
June 19, 2020

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Corrections & clarifications: An earlier version of this story misidentified an immigration attorney with Adams Immigration Law. She is Angela Adams. It also incorrectly reported who qualifies for in-state tuition in Indiana. DACA recipients are eligible, undocumented immigrants are not. ​​​​


Perla Alamillo was relieved Thursday when she heard the Supreme Court had rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to end the Obama-era DACA program, which protects thousands of young immigrants like herself, from deportation and allows them to work legally in the United States.

Still, she said, it isn’t enough.

“That pressure and that anxiety of knowing that rug can still be pulled from under me at any minute, any day, is still there,” the 25-year-old said. “For now, I am standing strong. But what happens tomorrow? What happens next week?”

Some young undocumented Hoosiers and DACA recipients say there’s still work to do. They say the ruling Thursday, though it brings them joy and relief, is also an extended opportunity to keep working and advocating for a path to citizenship for themselves and their undocumented families.

The more than 10,000 DACA recipients who live in Indiana do not qualify federal financial aid and undocumented immigrants do not qualify for college in-state tuition and cannot apply for a driver’s license or for state and federal aid.

DACA also remains a temporary work permit and it doesn’t provide a path for citizenship for its nearly 700,000 recipients. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was created in 2012 under President Barack Obama. It allows immigrants brought to the U.S. unlawfully as children to temporarily work legally and attend college.

Recipients are vetted and must have earned a high school diploma, GED, and also have a clean criminal record, among other qualifications.

Alamillo is a registered nurse at IU Health University Hospital and works in the surgical intensive care unit. She came to the U.S. with her parents from Veracruz, Mexico when she was 5 years old and has lived in Indiana since.

Every two years, Alamillo waits anxiously to know if her work permit will be approved. When she celebrates milestones such as buying a house or a car there’s always the uncertainty of not knowing whether it will all be taken away.

She’d also like to go to grad school and become a nurse practitioner.

“But what happens if I lose my job or if DACA goes away?” Alamillo said. “I’m in limbo. I don’t want to start school and not be able to finish. I don’t want to invest so much time and money and all the effort that goes into getting a master’s and then not be able to finish or be able to stay here.”

According to reports by USA Today, Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion, called the administration’s action “arbitrary and capricious.” But he said it was not a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause, which would have more fully protected DACA from a new attack.

This means the Trump administration could still try to end the program.

The ruling was 5-4, with the court’s four liberal justices agreeing and the four more conservative justices in dissent on the main thrust of Roberts’ ruling, USA Today reported.

The court’s decision Thursday also came as a surprise to some.

Guadalupe Pimentel Solano, 27, who is a founding member of the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance and a DACA recipient, said she expected a negative outcome — and was emotionally and mentally prepared for that.

Pimentel Solano said she’s grateful for the decision Thursday and recognized DACA has helped her further her career and has opened many doors for her. Her work permit has allowed her to go from once being a restaurant server to now working as a community leadership officer for the Indiana Community Foundation.

That said, Pimentel Solano said she feels there’s still some anger and trauma in the community because undocumented immigrants’ lives remain in limbo.

“At the end of the day, our parents are still undocumented. They’re the ones who have sacrificed so much for us and when these decisions happen it’s almost like they are erased from the story,” Pimentel Solano said.

The 27-year-old is part of a mix-status family. Her brother is a U.S. citizen, her mother is a legal permanent resident and her dad is undocumented.

“We always hear that narrative of how ‘these kids were brought here through no fault of their own,” she said, “but we never talk about the policies that push our families out of our countries and the racism that has pushed communities out.”

Immigration Attorney, Angela Adams of Adams Immigration Law said though Indiana has taken some steps to help DACA recipients, she said it’s time for Congress to step in.

In 2017, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed into law a measure that allows DACA recipients to obtain professional licenses in more than 70 occupations ranging from nursing to architecture to hair styling.

“That was huge for Indiana. That’s something we did right and legislators were on board,” Adams said. “DACA has been through so much in the courts, however, we need Congress to step in and make a permanent solution. The state can only do so much, or not do so much, but this is really a federal issue.”

Adams said the decision Thursday is a huge victory that should not be understated.

“It underscores the fact that Trump’s administration acted inappropriately,” Adams said. “This is also a glimmer of hope in a very difficult time especially in the field of immigration law.”

Though current DACA recipients are able to renew their work permits, it’s still unclear if, after the court’s ruling, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will resume accepting new applications for the program.

President Trump said on Twitter the ruling Thursday by the court was “politically charged” in a series of “shotgun blasts” to the face of Republicans and conservatives.

“The DACA decision, while a highly political one, and seemingly not based on the law, gives the President of the United States far more power than ever anticipated. Nevertheless, I will only act in the best interests of the United States of America!” he tweeted.

“The recent Supreme Court decisions, not only on DACA, Sanctuary Cities, Census, and others, tell you only one thing, we need new justices of the Supreme Court. If the Radical Left Democrats assume power, your Second Amendment, Right to Life, Secure Borders, and Religious Liberty, among many other things, are over and gone.”

State Sen. Victoria Spartz is the Republican candidate running for Congress in the 5th District. She was raised in Ukraine, immigrated to the U.S. and became a citizen in the early 2000s. She said the immigration issue should be handled by the legislature.

“It took me six years to become an American citizen the legal way, so I’m quite familiar with our immigration laws,” she told IndyStar in an email.

“This issue should be dealt with by the legislative branch, not by the judicial branch. In Congress, I’ll work to secure our border and fix our broken immigration system.”

In a statement emailed to IndyStar, Congressman Andre Carson said he hopes President Trump, GOP leaders, and Democrats can work together to help people find a path to citizenship.

“The court’s ruling is a positive step in the right direction, but by no means the end of this fight. We still need to create additional policy solutions to protect these young people from deportation and fix our flawed immigration system,” he said in the statement. “…That includes ensuring the Senate passes the American Dream and Promise Act (HR 6), a bill to provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrant youth, which the House passed last year.”

Carolina Figueroa, 30, is a community organizer for Stand for Children Indiana. She was born in Peru and brought to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

The DACA recipient is a single mom of an 11- and a 12-year-old. Figueroa said she had to prepare her children and talk to them about the possibility of her deportation.

“It was very emotional but we needed to be prepared,” Figueroa said. “My brother was deported a few years ago and they lived through that process and it was very hard.”

But Thursday’s decision helped her breathe a little and encouraged her to keep pursuing her education and career goals.

“I am interested in public policy, I want to make a real change in the community. But if I want to be in politics I have to become a citizen,” Figueroa said. “I am always going to go back to the community and be making an impact, especially for the immigrant community.”

The decision Thursday was also celebrated by local organizations and institutions such as the Indiana Latino Institute and Indiana University.

Marlene Dotson, President, and CEO of Indiana Latino Institute, said the community in Indiana can help DACA recipients by donating to organizations that provide support through scholarships and internships for Latino students.

“We need support from corporations to write to congress; we need universities and our Indiana delegation to support our immigrant community,” Dotson said. “We need to keep encouraging (DACA recipients), we are so proud of them, we hear them, we see them and the fight is not over. We don’t want them to lose hope.”


IndyStar reporter Natalia Contreras can be reached at 317-444-6187 or natalia.contreras@indystar.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook, @NataliaECG.

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