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Follow our coverage of immigration and related issues affecting Latinos in the Charlotte area.

Supreme Court Expected To Make Decision On DACA Soon Amid Nationwide Protests

Pax Ahimsa Gethen
Wikimedia Commons
Protesters hold signs at a 2017 DACA rally in San Francisco.

Twenty-four-year-old Alejandro, who asked to not share his last name, is one of approximately 25,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in North Carolina. His parents brought him to the United States from Mexico when he was 3 years old and, today, he’s a rising senior at UNC Charlotte, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Construction Management. 

The Migration Policy Institute estimates there are actually around 38,000 people in the state eligible for DACA. But that could all change if the Supreme Court rules in favor of President Trump’s 2017 decision to end the DACA program.

“We can only be here to work or go to school and by taking that away we would obviously be here illegally,” Alejandro said. “It’ll affect a lot of individuals not only family-wise but economically.”

ESPAÑOL: "Inquietud sobre el futuro de DACA ante la eventual decisión de la Corte Suprema de Justicia"

Facing Uncertainty

In Alejandro’s case, his off-campus, part-time job during the school year and his summer full-time work in construction are the only ways he can afford his studies. Even though he’s lived in North Carolina for most of his life, his legal status doesn’t qualify him for in-state tuition at UNC Charlotte. The total full-time cost for an out-of-state student at UNCC ranges between $8,110 and $10,265 a semester.

This is because being a DACA recipient only allows him to qualify for certain state and federal benefits.

With DACA, recipients are granted a temporary stay in the U.S. for two years to work and/or go to college without eligibility for financial aid, and a driver’s license without eligibility to vote. Alejandro is obligated to maintain a clean record and to pay taxes. Still, he cannot receive federal benefits like Social Security, Medicare or food stamps.

“It does make college more expensive, but it’s still allowed me to go to school,” Alejandro said. “I only have two more semesters left before I graduate and if they were to take it away, it’d basically be all those years of hard work and effort taken away.”

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is the program created for foreign-born children who were brought into the U.S. illegally before their 16th birthday and were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012. If enrolled, they are eligible to have their removal from the United States postponed. Alejandro’s parents started his enrollment process into the program in 2012, the same year it started under the Obama administration. He’s been renewing his permit every two years ever since.

“Before [DACA] I didn’t have any plans to go to college because you couldn’t go to college if you were here illegally,” he said. “With DACA, I have been able to go to college, I’ve been able to work and pay taxes.”

The thought of losing that opportunity makes him emotional.

“If they were to send me back to Mexico, I know things would be completely different,” he said. “I wouldn’t have the same lifestyle I have here.”

The Legalese, Broken Down

Jamilah Espinosa, an immigration attorney in Matthews, said there are three potential outcomes to expect from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision regarding President Trump’s executive order to end DACA. The order was blocked by at least five federal courts.

“The first one is that the Supreme Court decides that they don’t have the authority to review the Trump administration’s decision at all,” Espinosa said. “The Supreme Court could say, ‘We have the authority to review this decision, but we decided the Trump administration has the authority to terminate DACA and it was lawful.'”

“Based on oral arguments and what we’ve seen, it’s less likely, but the Court could conclude that they have the authority to review the Trump administration’s decision to terminate DACA, but they will say the termination was unlawful and because it’s unlawful, it’s a win for DACA recipients,” she said.

The Time To Renew Is Now

Espinosa urges current DACA recipients to renew their status as soon as possible while the program is still afloat, even if their permits are still up to a year from expiring. That’s because, Espinosa said, there’s a possibility that even if the program is canceled they will still be eligible for the two-year work permit that comes with being granted DACA status.

Still, that is just a proactive measure because the Trump administration has not been clear on what will happen to DACA recipients whose permits haven’t expired if the program is, in fact, canceled. The question of whether they will be deported also remains unanswered.

“We know that will be very hard to do due to COVID," Espinosa said. "The immigration courts have been closed since March, which has further added to the backlog. We had a shutdown the year before that added to the backlog. You add another 800,000 potential people in removal proceedings and you will have an even further backlog."

For Alejandro, he said they’d be taking him away from the only home he knows.

“I’ve grown up here, I’ve adopted customs and traditions from the U.S,” he said. “I can talk in Spanish, but my preferred language is English just because I’ve been speaking it my whole life.”

DACA And #BlackLivesMatter

North Carolina supporters of the immigrant community, many who have backed the Black Lives Matter movement across the state, are taking to social media asking local leaders to “organize an action on DACA” in their respective communities whenever the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals arrives.

The Black Lives Matter and immigrant rights organizers have long supported each other as social justice groups both fighting for human rights. In its vision statement, The Movement for Black Lives says, “We believe in elevating the experiences and leadership of the most marginalized black people, including but not limited to those who are women, queer, trans, femmes, gender nonconforming, Muslim, formerly and currently incarcerated, cash poor and working class, differently-abled, undocumented, and immigrant.”

In “The Browning of the New South,” Jennifer A. Jones explains how after a week on ICE raids, undocumented Latinx members of Siembra NC partnered with Black Lives Matter activists and other black community leaders in their efforts to clean up a tornado-ravaged, predominantly black East Greensboro neighborhood in 2018.

Recently, Siembra NC has participated in protests across the Triad area and posted information on Facebook about why they believe “[ending] the criminalization and detention of immigrants” is closely tied to “[ending] police violence against Black immigrants and all Black people.”

Regarding DACA and #BlackLivesMatter, Alejandro said he sees similarities between both movements.

“We’re all human, we all have equal rights even though sometimes it doesn’t seem that way,” Alejandro said. “With #BlackLivesMatter it’s just because of the color of their skin, and in our case just because people think we don’t have legal rights to be here.”

Credit David Boraks / WFAE
Protesters march in a demonstration against systemic racism and police brutality in Charlotte last week.

Davidson College sociology professor Gerardo Martí predicts the current state of #BlackLivesMatter protests could heighten if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of the Trump administration’s removal of DACA, recalling the protests and uproar when the president announced his decision back in 2017.

“We did see protests. We did see people carrying signs. We did see people advocating for their Latino neighbors and we did see white people who were actually saying ‘This is wrong, why are we doing this?’” he said. “Even though we may not remember it, we will soon remember it if indeed this decision goes against them.”

Martí explains that, in his view, the importance of the social unrest is that groups whose issues go otherwise unnoticed are being recognized internationally.

“It was only recently that we had such a sharp turn because of the abrupt tone of this government that simply refuses to accept any form of immigration as legitimate,” Martí said “We see these people having no other pathway of making their lives known, the attention to their own issues other than also taking to the streets.”

Espinosa emphasizes that DACA recipients currently participating in #BlackLivesMatter protests or any other protests should always be cautious because their legal consequences are different than those who are American citizens.

“A DACA holder might risk losing their DACA status which means you could be placed in removal proceedings,” Espinosa said.

Protests are an opportunity for DACA holders to show they are active members of the community who work and go to school, all while giving a face to the program, Espinosa added.

“Now more than ever, now that the stakes are so much higher, they really need to come and share their stories,” she said. “So that the American population can understand that they are contributing and really do deserve to have the ability to call the United States their permanent home.”

Laura Brache is a Report for America corps member and covers immigration and the Latino community in Charlotte for WFAE and La Noticia.

Laura Brache works with WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte, through Report for America to cover immigration and deportation issues facing the Latino community. She also reports on the Charlotte immigration court, one of the toughest in the nation with the second-highest deportation rate in the country in 2019.