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As DACA ruling nears, 'Dreamers' expect struggle to continue

daca group.jpg
Yahel Flores
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American Business Immigration Coaltion
Sen. Dick Durbin speaks to DACA advocates from North Carolina and elsewhere who gathered in Washington, D.C., in June for the 10th anniversary of the program.

This story was produced through a collaboration between WFAE and La Noticia. You can read it in Spanish at La Noticia. Puedes leer la nota en español en La Noticia.

Yahel Flores first came to the United States from Mexico with his family at the age of 7. Twenty-one years later, he’s a father and an advocate for Latino business owners through the American Business Immigration Coalition.

But his immigration status remains uncertain.

In the coming weeks, the future of more than 600,000 U.S. residents like Flores, referred to as "Dreamers" after the failed DREAM Act, will be determined by a federal appeals court. The case centers around the legality of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

The Obama-era policy was intended as a temporary solution for undocumented people brought to the United States as children. A decade later, there is still no legislative alternative to DACA and no pathway to a permanent immigration status for people like Flores.

He lives with constant anxiety that his life in North Carolina could be taken away.

“Imagine you have everything stripped away. You get your driver's license taken away. You get your ability to legally work taken away, your Social Security number,” Flores said. “Imagine all that gets taken away. How do you provide for your family?”

That’s a scenario he fears, should the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rule against the legality of DACA. Flores warns the case could send about 23,000 North Carolinian DACA recipients into hiding if they lose their legal status.

“They could be doctors; they could be lawyers; they could be electricians,” Flores said. “And we're taking away their possibilities.”

At issue in the case, led by the state of Texas, is whether the Obama administration held authority to establish DACA in the first place and whether Texas has been “injured” by the costs of social services provided to "Dreamers."

Regardless of the court’s ruling, the struggle for DACA recipients will continue, says Charlotte-based immigration attorney Sharon Dove.

“There's no path to citizenship. There's no path to a green card or lawful permanent resident status. And so the benefit that it can confer to individuals is really, really limited,” Dove said. “One thing we hear 'Dreamers' tell us is that they can't take anything for granted. They can't get attached. Their lives here are not permanent. And that's really just a terrible way that we make them live.”

Texas-based "Dreamer" Juan Carlos Cerda worries about his future and the possibility of losing his right to work. He is now the Texas director of the American Business Immigration Coalition, where Flores works. He lost a teaching job previously due to a government delay in renewing his work permit.

“This litigation and this political back and forth is just exhausting mentally, because we have politicians saying that they support us. They say they agree in principle that we shouldn't have to leave the only home we know, but then they don't do anything about it,” Cerda said.

He anticipates more litigation to follow the appeals court ruling. What’s needed, he says, is a solution from Congress.

“[The court ruling] would just extend our anxiety, extend this uncertainty,” Cerda said. “And only Congress can stop that.”

The fight in North Carolina and outreach to elected officials will continue, Flores says.

“It feels like we're getting played with. And that's the simplest way that you can put it. And the nicest way that I could put it,” he said. “It's time to actually take some real action forward instead of keeping us in limbo in this gray area.”

Flores said he holds onto a hopeful realism that, while the fight continues, a solution will eventually be achieved for "Dreamers."

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Corrected: September 13, 2022 at 12:10 PM EDT
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Juan Carlos Cerda lost his teaching job because of a government delay in renewing his work permit and that he is now the Texas director of the American Business Immigration Coalition.
Kayla Young 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. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health and Wells Fargo.