US Election 2020 DACA Recipients

In this Nov. 12, 2019, file photo people rally outside the Supreme Court as oral arguments are heard in the case of President Trump’s decision to end the Obama-era, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), at the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Edwin Torres couldn’t sleep. At 4 a.m. on Thursday, he finally turned off his phone. Under the covers, he felt like he was 6 years old again. Back when he was scared of the dark. Beneath the blanket, he was protected from the morning that would dictate the rest of his life. He fell asleep.

Like nearly 700,000 other Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipients, Torres, 27, was waiting for the Supreme Court to decide on his future. Last fall, Torres stood on the steps of the court with hundreds of other undocumented Americans and allies, rallying as the nine justices listened to oral arguments. Now, the wait was over: The Supreme Court, in a few hours, would decide whether the Trump administration could immediately end the Obama-era program that allowed non-citizens brought to the U.S. in childhood to live and work in relative peace.

When he woke up, Torres, who had barely slept in days, immediately turned on his phone. Despite the dozens of messages he received, which became hundreds of messages, he didn’t believe the news until he read it in the New York Times: “TRUMP CAN’T IMMEDIATELY END DACA, SUPREME COURT RULES.”

Torres, the former Latinx outreach director for Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential campaign, felt he could relax. If only for just a moment.

“I didn’t have to keep thinking anymore what my life will be if my DACA gets removed. And what does that mean to my parents who depend on my income? And what does that mean to my life that I’ve built?” he said. “I’ve been in this country for 20 years. This is the only place I know.”

But the Supreme Court decision, Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of Univ. of California, is not the final word. The court’s 5-4 decision did not affirm that the program can continue indefinitely, only that the Trump administration had acted illegally in the way it tried to end it. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: “We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies.”

In other words, for DACA recipients and undocumented Americans around the country and in Minnesota, the fight for status and recognition is in no way over.

A 5-4 decision

In Minnesota, an estimated 5,600 people have benefited from DACA. The program was created by an executive action in 2012, when President Barack Obama ordered the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to establish a status that allows some undocumented Americans brought to the country as children to be deferred from deportation proceedings. The program is renewable after two years and during that time allows DACA recipients to be eligible for a work permit. But in its current state, it does not provide a pathway to citizenship.

In September of 2017, President Donald Trump announced he would end the program, arguing it was not in his legal authority to maintain it. The court, narrowly split, found his reasoning to be “arbitrary and capricious.”

“The Supreme Court majority ruled on narrow, technical grounds. It did not rule that DACA is lawful,” said professor Stephen Meili, director of the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic at the University of Minnesota Law School. “The program will continue for the foreseeable future. The Trump administration may devise an alternative explanation for attempting to rescind DACA that passes Supreme Court muster, but that will be difficult prior to the November election.”

Julio Zelaya, who works with the Minnesota ACLU to organize undocumented Americans in Greater Minnesota, said that the message from the court was that there was no good reason DACA was rescinded by the president. “I think we see going forward is that we’re going to be able to leverage this, to say that immigrants also have rights,” said Zelaya, who works in Mankato. “That their due process is important in this country.”

But for DACA recipients like Torres, it is deeply unsettling that a small number of people he’s never met decided his future. “It’s not very common for nine people to truly have my whole future, my aspirations, my dreams in their hands,” Torres said. “And we need a permanent solution.”

‘If I was the president’

Eliphaz Omote, 27, said it’s unfortunate that the current White House and Congress hold all the power to decide the future of so many people.

“I don’t think that work stops at any point until our permanent solutions are actually passed and, unfortunately, those decisions have to come from the White House and from Congress,” said Omote, a DACA recipient and a member of the Black Immigrant Collective, a Minnesota Black-led immigrant organization that works at the intersection of Blackness and migration.

“If it was up to me, if I was the president, I’d be like, ‘You know what, because of what’s been going on, have automatic renewals for those people whose applications are due to be renewed during this coronavirus,’” said Omote, who was born in Kenya and came to Minnesota when he was 11. “But that doesn’t seem to be the case, because I personally had to renew my documentation last week, and I still had to pay a significant amount of money, which I didn’t have. I thank God that I was able to be sponsored by an organization out of D.C.“

Angelica Bello Ayapantecatl, 18, is another DACA recipient in Minnesota and a member of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC). Ayapantecatl said that now that the Supreme Court decision is made, MIRAC will be doing its best to help people renew their DACA status. “We will be helping people renew their DACA and … if they’re taking your applications, we will do our best,” she said.

“But I would add that what really needs to be done is legalization for all. And as crazy as that sounds to people, that’s just what needs to happen because first we are in stolen land. This is a humanitarian issue and I’m just thinking about the children in cages. I’m not just thinking about our Dreamers, you know? I just feel like legalization for all summarizes it all.”

Mustafa Jumale, a Minnesotan and policy director at Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), said the bottom line is that Congress needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform. “Particularly the Minnesota delegation really should push Congress to create a pathway for permanent residency for DACA holders,” he said. “There’s nothing about immigration that should be partisan in our opinion.”

For Torres, the continued policy debate is not about the hypothetical. He thinks about the immigration debate every single day. Not just in terms of his own status, but in terms of undocumented Americans whose stories don’t get told.

“Every time I get up, I know exactly when my expiration date expires and that is every two years for my DACA status,” he said. “I don’t think that there’s a day that goes by that I don’t think exactly when I have to redo my documents.”

Torres, who can’t vote, believes that November’s election is not just about the presidency. It’s about the courts. It’s about the state Legislature. It’s about paying attention to all levels of policymaking.

“For a lot of us who don’t have many privileges, it’s everything,” said Torres, who received DACA status in 2012, allowing him to attend college and get a job. “It’s everything from the local level to the state level to the national level. We have to be engaged more than ever now.”

Gabe Schneider is MinnPost’s Washington correspondent.

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