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

Charlotte Family In Limbo After Latest DACA Ruling Hopes Biden Administration Will Help

Silvia Sanchez helped her daughter Jessica submit an application for DACA, but within less than a week a court banned the review of new and pending applications.
Courtesy of Silvia Sanchez
Silvia Sanchez helped her daughter Jessica submit an application for DACA, but within less than a week a court banned the review of new and pending applications.

When Silvia Sanchez and her husband left their home in Mexico in 1996 and came to Charlotte, their daughter Jessica was only a baby.

“She was 11 months old when she came to this country fighting for her life,” Silvia said.

Jessica was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Doctors in Mexico gave her three months to live. She’s now 26 years old.

Silvia Sanchez and her husband had four more children who were all born in North Carolina and are therefore U.S. citizens. But Jessica and her parents remained in the country without documentation.

Nine years ago, then-President Barack Obama announced the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA. The program would prevent eligible immigrants, who are known as dreamers, from being deported and could grant them a permit to work and go to college.

Just when it seemed a new door opened up for Jessica, her health worsened.

“She was in the hospital in critical condition. They told us she only had three days. They said she wouldn’t make it past three days because she had complications after surgery,” Silvia said. “So we lost interest in applying for DACA.”

Silvia says by the time Jessica was ready to apply, the program came to a halt after former President Donald Trump announced that he was ending it in 2017.

“After it was blocked, there were so many legal challenges that we couldn’t apply,” Silvia said.

In December 2020, applications for DACA opened up again. This followed a U.S. Supreme Court ruling and a few other court decisions. Jessica was once again able to apply for the program.

“We were really excited. We knew we had to go back to working to save up money for her passport and to get all the paperwork she needed to apply,” Silvia said. “We were happy and I told her: ‘Hopefully you get DACA and your legal status is figured out before mine.’ That’s how it always has been.”

Jessica Sanchez came to the US when she was only 11 months old. She was diagnosed with spina bifida and hydrocephalus and was only given three months to live.
Courtesy of Silvia Sanchez
Jessica Sanchez came to the U.S. when she was only 11 months old. She was diagnosed with spina bifida and hydrocephalus and was only given three months to live.

Silvia sold homemade Mexican food to her friends and neighbors to raise the money Jessica needed to apply for DACA. Two weeks ago, they gathered all the paperwork needed, paid the nearly $500 worth of fees and submitted Jessica’s application.

But within a week, the Sanchez family was met with more bad news.

On July 16, a federal judge in Texas blocked the review of new and pending DACA applications after saying the program was illegal. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there are more than 55,000 pending cases nationwide.

One of those belongs to Jessica.

“We’re worried, we don’t know what’s going to happen if they’re going to approve or deny her application. We don’t know anything,” Silvia said.

She says she hopes President Joe Biden and his administration will work on protecting DACA. Soon after the Texas ruling was announced, Biden said the Department of Justice would appeal the decision.

“Biden's promise was that he was going to fight for us and that’s what we want to see — that he’s fighting for us,” Silvia said.

But that hope for change with this new administration isn’t shared by all. Ana Laura Valdez immigrated from Mexico when she was 7 years old and was among the first DACA recipients. She was in middle school at the time.

Valdez says when she heard about the most recent ban on DACA she wasn’t really surprised. She says she’s frustrated at the lack of action in Congress to get any immigration reform passed.

“The bar is so low," Valdez said. "This is the bare minimum they can do. And most of the time they can't even get that done.”

Valdez now works at the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy as a bilingual paralegal helping other immigrants with their legal needs.

She says by now, immigration activists like her are expecting more. Protections for DACA recipients are not enough, she says. Comprehensive immigration reform that includes those with Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, and other immigrants who are not in the country legally, is necessary.

“I think at this point, organizers and activists are calling for a lot more than the DREAM Act and extending solidarity with TPS holders and other undocumented people, as well,” Valdez said. “And they're not being willing to compromise"

Valdez also says DACA recipients should be protected without having to throw other immigrants, like their parents, under the bus.

“In order to have a 'dreamer' narrative where people just want to be here to work, they just are here for no fault in their own, that inherently requires placing the blame on somebody else,” Valdez said.

That can be people like Silvia Sanchez and her husband, or others who are in the country illegally.

Jessica’s dream is to go to law school and become an immigration attorney. For now, Silvia says, all they can do is wait.

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Maria Ramirez Uribe is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte.