On the heels of a federal judge’s ruling to fully restore DACA, advocates in the Mountain West are hearing from an outpouring of young people hoping to apply for the first time.
Adriel Orozco, an immigration attorney and executive director of the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, says the majority of calls his law office is receiving are from potential first-time applicants.
He says the ruling brings some measure of relief after the uncertainty of the past few years, which have caused “heartache for our community.”
Orozco remembers a client arrested and detained by federal immigration officers. It took months of “strong and intense advocacy” to get him released. Orozco’s client would have been eligible for DACA had the program allowed new applicants.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, enacted by President Barack Obama through executive order in 2012, doesn’t create a pathway to citizenship. But the immigration program has shielded young people brought to the U.S. by family members from deportation. It has also opened doors for higher education and jobs.
Since 2017, the Trump administration has not accepted new applications even after the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s attempt to end DACA in June.
U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis’s ruling last week changed that, restoring the program to its original status under Obama and clearing the way for thousands of young people to apply. It follows Garaufis’s November ruling, in which he said that Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf did not have the power to curb the immigration program in July from two years to one for current recipients.
On December 4, just after Garaufis issued his decision, organizers at the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition began receiving text messages, phone calls and emails from potential applicants. Soon their inboxes were inundated.
“I think a lot of people are excited and hopeful,” said Josh Stallings, a regional organizer with the coalition. He is hearing from potential applicants that were too young to apply for DACA before the Trump administration rescinded the program. Stallings is also fielding calls from people who only recently learned about DACA.
Still, he says that optimism is tempered by the shortcomings of DACA — a stopgap measure.
“We have to remind people that DACA from the beginning was a band-aid solution,” Stallings said. “So while we are glad this is being restored, we are just restoring the band-aid.”
Advocates like Stallings and Orozco want to see a permanent measure enacted for the roughly 650,000 so-called Dreamers in the U.S. and the hundreds of thousands more that could be eligible for the program. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Mountain West is home to more than 44,000 DACA recipients.
Orozco says President-elect Joe Biden, who has vowed to grant citizenship to Dreamers, is capable of effecting change. “He seems to be able to play the role well, in terms of trying to find a balance of working with Republicans who have historically been opposed” to DACA, he said.
The immigration program faces another impending legal hurdle, though. Texas and seven other Republican-led states are challenging the constitutionality of DACA in an upcoming federal case.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.