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Dreamers fail to find resolution in latest DACA ruling

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Oscar Romero
Oscar Romero poses after his graduation from UNC Charlotte in 2017. The uncertainty created by his DACA status has weighed on him.

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.

A federal appeals court found the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, known as DACA, in violation of U.S. immigration law on Wednesday. The case has been sent back to a lower court in Texas for consideration.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision doesn’t end the Obama-era program, meant as temporary relief for undocumented people brought to the United States as children.

Around 600,000 people who were already enrolled in the program still remain protected from deportation. But new applications are stalled and other issues, like establishing a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, remain unresolved.

North Carolina DACA recipient Liliana Cruz says the ruling only adds to the uncertainty. For her, it’s all part of a familiar cycle.

“It has gone through the legal court system so much that going through something like this again is almost like having the rug swept from underneath your feet,” she said. “It’s unsettling, honestly.”

Liliana Cruz
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Liliana Cruz
Liliana Cruz works as an administrative assistant at an immigration law office in Charlotte. Her right to work depends on DACA.

Cruz, who came to the U.S. from Mexico as a toddler, is one of about 24,000 North Carolina residents whose right to live in the state and continue to work legally depends on DACA.

Her life in Charlotte remains protected by the court for now, but the fight over DACA isn’t over.

A Texas district court is now tasked with reviewing a new DACA rule, released by the Biden administration in August, explained lawyer Mercer Cauley. The new rule could take effect as soon as Oct. 31, but the timing depends on the courts.

“What we're hopeful for is that the new rule complies with everything that it needs to and that DACA will be back in place, and that first-time applicants will be able to apply once the district court makes a decision,” Cauley said.

Pressure on Congress

Even if the lower court rules in favor of the Biden rule, Cauley said that won’t necessarily resolve the DACA issue.

“Unfortunately, the court is the only place that we can find resolution until Congress acts. And that is where this really needs to take place,” Cauley said. “It's a little unfortunate because you have both sides of Congress, you have Democrats and Republicans who both agree that DACA needs to have a resolution.”

President Biden and immigrant advocacy groups are also mounting pressure on Congress to act. In a news statement Wednesday, Biden called on Congress to establish legislation and provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients.

Software engineer Oscar Romero says the issue isn’t just about DACA recipients like himself. The lack of political resolution also affects families and communities.

“The big number that keeps being put in headlines is 600,000 individuals,” said Romero, a graduate of UNC Charlotte. “But multiply that by the amount of impact we have in our daily lives — the coworkers, the families, the students, the grandparents, the parents that are connected to us. And that number is significantly bigger. It’s millions and millions of people that are tied to this emotional rollercoaster.”

Romero said the court decision is a reminder that many aspects of his life, including his right to work and plan for the future, remain out of his control. He has struggled to remain politically engaged after so many years of limbo, but he said he is hopeful that political change is still possible.

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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.