I'm Anxious About the Future of DACA For People Like Me — but I'm Not Defeated

Six months ago, I wrote my first opinion piece for POPSUGAR. In it, I shared how the lack of progress toward permanent immigration solutions impacts the well-being of people temporarily protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. People like me.

Now, what I feared the most is happening.

And now, what I feared the most is happening. Earlier this month, US District Judge Andrew Hanen ruled that DACA is illegal — again. As the Associated Press reports, the ruling left DACA in place for existing recipients during ongoing legal review but barred the approval of any new applications. And the ruling means the issue is likely to end up before a conservative Supreme Court.

I have tried to remain optimistic. However, after more than a decade, lawmakers still don't have a clear plan that will offer permanent legal status or citizenship to DACA recipients who were brought to the United States as children. The situation is dire for immigrants who are undocumented and have no legal protection and the many more who are making the difficult journey here.

I confront the two truths that coexist. I am angry and anxious, but I am also not defeated. Despite this ruling, DACA recipients will continue to persevere in the face of relentless political attacks. I experience it every day and see it magnified on a larger scale through my role at the Edward W. Hazen Foundation, where we support the organizing and leadership of young people and communities of color in dismantling structural inequity based on race and class.

I am angry and anxious, but I am also not defeated.

Many of Hazen's grantees, like Movimiento Poder in Denver, champion the needs and rights of immigrant communities. Movimiento Poder is a grassroots organization led by youth and parents. Its staff is 100 percent Latine, and all have different immigration statuses. Because they live in the communities they serve, the demographic is similar. Their community is made up of DACA recipients, undocumented immigrants, and families living in mixed-status homes. Movimiento Poder's strength is in amplifying systems of care rather than punishment. And while its work centers on building a home for Latine folks facing issues such as over-policing and displacement, its efforts also include ensuring its community is protected and educated as DACA's future becomes even more perilous. 

"This ruling means we will need to show up for one another as our community deals with yet another challenge," Oscar Juarez-Luna, who is part of the Movimiento Poder team and a DACA recipient, told me. "Regardless of what some politicians and this judge have to say, we know that we belong here, and we have a voice and power." Juarez-Luna is right.

But I know moments like this can make us feel powerless and hopeless, especially as nearly 400,000 young people eligible to apply for DACA are shut out of the program, leaving them unprotected from deportation. "We have waited decades for a solution, and nothing has been done," Juarez-Luna said, echoing the thoughts so many of us have. "The clock keeps ticking, and people continue to be detained and deported every single day. Meanwhile, Congress and the president's administration have yet to take permanent action."

"DACA recipients are parents, tías, tíos, siblings, and friends — but we are also people with dreams."

Hanen's ruling is more than a political decision. It sends the message that we are not wanted here. Despite our positive impact on the economy, culture, and society, some lawmakers and politicians seek to invalidate our existence and make our home inhospitable. As Juarez-Luna put it: "DACA recipients are parents, tías, tíos, siblings, and friends — but we are also people with dreams. Having the door shut on us means making way for the ugliest, most divisive practices historically used to push people out."

So much of our future depends on what happens next. This ruling will most certainly be appealed and reach the Supreme Court. But that's daunting. DACA has gone before the Supreme Court twice before: in 2016, when the judges deadlocked over a decision to expand protections to the parents of DACA recipients, and in 2020, when the judges overturned President Donald Trump's termination of DACA. This group of justices is different today than those on the court three years ago.

Today's court struck down affirmative action in college admissions, rejected President Joe Biden's student loan forgiveness plan, and overturned Roe v. Wade. This is the court that will likely decide DACA's fate — I don't have any confidence in it.

Though the Texas judge's decision doesn't end DACA immediately, it does make it technically illegal. Those of us with DACA must do whatever it takes not to let our status lapse. That means applying for renewal on time, accessing the proper legal resources, and seeking support. We cannot take any chances.

Losing DACA means losing so much more. Many of us are the sole income earners of our families, others are graduating college, and many of us lead quiet lives full of hope. What happens to all of that if DACA is lost with no permanent solution in its place? We can't stop because DACA is illegal. We have goals. And even though we keep moving toward them, we do so with trepidation, which of course feels isolating.

Sometimes, it's easier to think about the present. I asked Juarez-Luna what DACA recipients need now, and his answer was straightforward: "We need updated solutions that honor the lives and contributions of immigrants. These solutions should ensure our safety and place here without restricting our ability to thrive now and in the future."