'I Feel Relieved': Charlotte DACA Recipient Celebrates SCOTUS Decision
In June 2005, Eduardo Rivera crossed the U.S. border with his mother to escape a life-threatening situation in Honduras. On Wednesday, the south Charlotte resident was one of many DACA recipients celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision rejecting the Trump administration’s attempt to end DACA.
Rivera got up early Wednesday, impatiently waiting for a Supreme Court decision on DACA – phone in hand, juggling between his social media and texts. A smile crossed his face as he sighed with relief when the decision came in.
"I was very anxious," Rivera said. "I feel relieved!”
As devout Christians, Rivera and his mother -- along with their extended family across the U.S. and Honduras -- prayed for this decision. After weeks of holding their breaths and planning a potential move to Spain with his mother if DACA was eliminated, the Riveras were able to breathe again after the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision.
“It just lets us know that there’s still people out there that have our backs. That they support us and that they’re trying to do their best to help us out,” Rivera said.
It has been a long journey to get here.
When they lived in Honduras, Rivera's mother, Daisy, was an attorney in San Pedro Sula, known as one of the most murderous cities of the world. After refusing to defend people she believed were involved in corrupt deals with the government, she began to fear for their lives.
"She started seeing different, random cars driving around the house," Rivera said. "We had our house broken into. Luckily, we were not harmed, but the people who went in the house, they went in there to try to kill whoever was in there.”
For his mother, that was the last straw. Shortly after, she hired a “coyote,” a term used in Latin America to describe a person that transports undocumented immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border. Even though Rivera was only 8 years old at the time, he remembers the journey quite well.
"It took us about a week to cross the border," he said. "We drove through Guatemala, Mexico, and then we crossed the border.”
Rivera says that while his mother could’ve requested asylum for the two of them, at the time she feared any kind of legal requests would expose them and put them at risk.
"When you're going through all of that situation, you don't don't really think about things. You're just trying to get out," Rivera said.
Both mother and son were detained at the border by ICE in Brownsville, Texas, just moments after crossing the Rio Grande on a deflated inflatable boat guided by their coyote. They were placed in the Port Isabel detention center located about 20 miles from where they were detained.
Rivera said that two days later, after numerous interrogations, being accused of being coyotes, themselves, and threats to separate them, he and his mother were released with permission to stay in the country for six months due to their situation. The danger of returning to Honduras, however, was too great. It was safer to stay in the United States, even while risking deportation or legal repercussions.
While short, their stay in the detention center left a few phobias that Rivera laughs off today.
“Bologna and American cheese," he said. "Every time it just reminds me of that detention center. I can’t stand it.”
Rivera has lived in Charlotte, now, for 13 years. He was a junior in high school when he was granted DACA status in 2012, the same year the program was established under the Obama administration. After he graduated from South Mecklenburg High School, Rivera decided to go to college nearby at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting's Charlotte campus. But the financial reality of being undocumented hit, and he couldn’t continue to afford his education without financial aid -- one of the stipulations of being a DACA recipient is that he cannot receive federal student aid -- so he dropped out. He still owes $9,000.
"What someone being a citizen would pay for a class, I would have to pay three times that amount,” Rivera said. “And that kinda made me feel upset and ashamed."
If DACA recipients ever received a path toward citizenship, Rivera says he’d go back to school and major in criminal justice to become a police officer, something many of his friends mock and question.
"I just wanna be able to help people out," he said. "I know that we have a lot going on between the police and the community, but like I’ve told my friends, you know, not every officer is the same. That I could be a difference. That I’m not like those bad seeds."
In the meantime, Rivera serves his community singing at his local church, volunteering, and going door to door in immigrant neighborhoods, encouraging neighbors to fill out the 2020 census regardless of their status.
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