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Immigrant advocates, congressional Dems press Biden for permanent protections

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Immigrant advocates, congressional Dems press Biden for permanent protections

Jun 12, 2024 | 3:36 pm ET
By Ariana Figueroa
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Immigrant advocates, congressional Dems press Biden for permanent protections
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U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, speaks at an event outside the U.S. Capitol on June 12, 2024, calling on the Biden administration to use its executive authority to protect people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program. (Ariana Figueroa | States Newsroom)

WASHINGTON — Ashly Trejo Mejia is eager to attend medical school, but she’s not sure she can pursue that dream because of an upcoming court decision that could end the Obama-era program meant to temporarily protect immigrants like her who were brought into the country illegally as children.

“You’re frozen in time,” she said.

The 23-year-old from Hyattsville, Maryland, was one of dozens of organizers and a handful of lawmakers outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, urging the administration to instill permanent protections for the nearly 579,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program before a 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision that could deem the program unlawful.

It’s a case that is likely to head to the Supreme Court.

Democratic lawmakers Sen. Alex Padilla of California, Reps. Sylvia Garcia of Texas, Delia Ramirez of Illinois and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan called on President Joe Biden to use his executive authority to enact protections for beneficiaries for the deferred action program, which then-President Barack Obama created 12 years ago this week.

The lawmakers suggested the president could grant parole or Deferred Enforced Departure status, which allows those covered to be exempt from deportation for a certain period of time.

“This was a promise made by the Biden administration, that they would address this issue and we gotta keep them on this promise,” Tlaib said.

Padilla acknowledged that because of the makeup of Congress, where Republicans control the House and Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate, any action on the program, often called DACA, must come from the White House.

“He has an executive authority to provide relief for caregivers, for Dreamers, for DACA recipients and the undocumented spouses of United States citizens,” Padilla.

DACA recipients are often called “Dreamers,” based on never-passed legislation called the Dream Act.

The White House did not respond to States Newsroom’s request for comment on any executive action related to DACA.

Court challenge

A case brought by seven states threatens the program.

In the lawsuit, which Texas led along with Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia, the states argue that DACA places an undue burden on the states and that the Obama administration didn’t follow proper procedures when implementing the program in 2012.

The Biden administration implemented its own final rule on DACA, but a federal judge deemed it unlawful in a September 2023 decision. The Biden administration has appealed to the 5th Circuit and is awaiting its decision.

Under the federal court order, the program remains in place for people who are already covered, but an injunction was placed to bar any future applicants, like Reyna Valdivias Solorio, from being able to apply.

Valdivias Solorio came to the U.S. when she was a year old and recently graduated from Nevada State University.

“I’ve been undocumented my whole life,” she said. “The hardest part is the emotional stress that comes from living in fear that one day, my older siblings, my parents and I could be deported and be separated from my younger siblings in this country we call home.”

There are about 94,500 pending applications for the DACA program, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data.

Additionally, the immigration advocacy and research organization FWD.us estimates there are 400,000 eligible undocumented youth who are unable to meet DACA eligibility requirements because they came to the U.S. too recently.

The program has seen legal challenges before, including a move by President Donald Trump’s administration in 2017 to rescind the program.

The move was ultimately blocked by the Supreme Court in a June 2020 decision. The high court ordered the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to accept first-time DACA applications, but the Trump administration didn’t until December 2020.

Spouses

Americans with undocumented spouses have expressed their frustration with the White House.

Speakers at Wednesday’s event pushed for executive action to grant relief for the more than 1.1 million Americans who fear their spouses could face deportation.

Ramirez said her husband, who is a DACA recipient, first entered the program when he was 14, and that many in the program are adults still waiting for a pathway to citizenship.

“I get to call him my husband,” she said. “Unfortunately, this country calls him undocumented.”