Immigrants react to court’s ruling on DACA.
In 2012, Yanet LimonAmado took in a sharp breath that hasn’t quite been released.
With DACA, she wouldn’t be deported — yet.
Spurred by what then-President Barack Obama called a failure by Congress to pass the “DREAM Act,” which would establish a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, came the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
The program, which would defer deportation and offer work permits to some undocumented children, was a temporary lifeline — a BandAid for a broken immigration system.
The problem then and now for Limon-Amado, a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, remains: Recipients are in perpetual limbo.
She lived her life in two-year increments — awaiting government renewals of her status — until the administration of President Donald Trump in 2017 moved to rescind the program.
On Thursday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked that action, in what was cast by some as a victory for Limon-Amado, one of nearly 800,000 DACA recipients.
The 24-year-old said she felt a brief sense of relief Thursday as she poured over her work, championing rights for Virginia’s farm and poultry workers. She wouldn’t fear going to sleep knowing the morning could result in being stripped from the home she’s known for 15 years.
But after the celebration, the uncertainty remains for the hundreds of thousands of doctors, lawyers, nurses and students — that have found refuge in the program. At the time of application, candidates for the program had to be at least 15, but under 31 years old, in school and without felonies or misdemeanors.
They await Trump’s reaction to the court ruling, and the possibility of administrative action that could curtail DACA one last time before the November election. Nearly 3 in 4 Americans support granting legal status to immigrants brought to the U.S. as kids, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
Chad Wolf, the acting director of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees immigration agencies such as ICE, didn’t hint at the possibility of future program removal attempts in a statement denouncing the ruling, calling DACA a program that was “implemented illegally” and the court’s decision one that “usurps the clear authority of the Executive Branch to end unlawful programs.”
Limon-Amado didn’t know her existence would be divisive when she came to the U.S. with her mother and sisters from Puebla, Mexico. She was only 8 years old.
When she received the
“no tienes papeles” talk” — you don’t have papers — she didn’t understand what that meant, or how being undocumented meant she may not go to college or buy her parents the house she’s promised would ground them in the
U.S. awhile longer.
She felt American, she was learning the language, she pledged allegiance to the same flag her peers did every morning.
But when Limon-Amado spoke Spanish at her predominantly white elementary school, lunch detention awaited her. That still haunts her; how learning English wasn’t enough and speaking the language that sustained her was reprimandable.
She’s since worked to carve a future for other immigrants as an intern in the Virginia General Assembly and organizer for Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. She’s talked with Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., about immigrant rights and fought for in-state tuition and driver’s licenses for undocumented people. In the 2020 General Assembly session, she won.
As of July 1, students will be eligible for in-state tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities “regardless of their citizenship or immigration status,” according to legislation Gov. Ralph Northam signed in April. The measures cleared the General Assembly this year as Democrats assumed simultaneous control of the legislature and the governorship for the first time in more than 20 years.
But the fight to ensure a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients rages on, and there aren’t any protections for her parents. They’re tired, she said, and conversations at family dinners have taken a grim turn.
Her father began working before he was 13, and as an undocumented person, there’s no safety net waiting for him in retirement. It’s an option he’s not sure exists for him, Limon-Amado added, which has forced her to await the fallout of another uncertainty: Will her parents go back home to Mexico?
Limon-Amado’s voice became a whisper as she thought of this. If they leave, “we might not be able to see each other any more for years,” she said.
Virginia officials such as Attorney General Mark Herring and Sens. Kaine and Mark Warner, all Democrats, as well as immigrant unions issued statements Thursday saying they would continue fighting for the nearly 25,000 Virginians with DACA status.
Sindy Benavides, a Honduran immigrant who’s CEO of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the oldest Hispanic civil rights organization in the U.S., said there’s a long, winding political battle ahead.
Limon-Amado is ready for it. She has to be.
On Feb. 6, 2018, Yanet Limon-Amado (at lectern) was among students calling on the House of Delegates to consider a bill to provide in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants.