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DACA court decision has Mississippi recipients worried

Immigration awareness sparked in Nacogdoches as DACA heads to Supreme Court
Immigration awareness sparked in Nacogdoches as DACA heads to Supreme Court
Published: Jul. 18, 2021 at 5:30 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Friday’s decision by a federal judge to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to new applicants sent shockwaves throughout America’s immigrant community, including Clinton, MS resident Maria.

Back in 2016, Maria was approved for DACA as a senior in high school, after realizing she never legally came to the U.S. Her family came from El Salvador for a better life and more opportunity.

Maria and her loved ones settled in Clinton when she was a child and now she reacts to the many other young immigrants who don’t have the opportunity to stay here legally.

“I can’t imagine what they are feeling right now to be honest,” she said.

Maria and the 616,030 other people with DACA have benefitted from the program with access to social security numbers and other benefits. Maria was able to find work, buy a car and apply/finish college with a Bachelor’s in chemical engineering.

“None of that would have been possible without DACA,” she said. “It’s such a blessing.”

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen ruled in favor of a 2018 lawsuit filed by Texas and eight other states, including Mississippi. The suit stated President Obama did not have authority to create DACA since it circumvented Congress.

However, in a statement, President Biden has asked the Department of Justice to file an appeal, giving hope to new applicants and those with pending applications like a client of Gulfport immigration lawyer Dalaney Mecham.

After finally graduating high school and DACA being restored in December, Mecham’s Hattiesburg client was eager to start the next journey of her life. But with a pending DACA application now struck down due to the recent judge’s decision, her dreams are on a back burner.

“It’s really frustrating for people like her because this really is the only opportunity that she has,” Mecham said. “She’s limited to what she can do now because a lot of universities won’t accept people who don’t have a social security number or who don’t have a visa.”

Mecham’s client joins 59% of Mississippi’s DACA-eligible immigrants now waiting on a Department of Justice appeal to the federal case or another saving grace.

“We will see if it has to play out in the court or we will watch if Congress will get their act together,” Mecham said.

Earlier this year, the House passed legislation to legalize a pathway to lawful status and citizenship. It now waits to be heard in the Senate.

“I always try to stay optimistic and hopeful,” El Pueblo Executive Director Mary Townsend said. “I believe that Congress can and should make a permanent solution.”

Townsend said she has many clients that had pending DACA status, a number that rose significantly at the start of the year. While she stays hopefully, she wants those with DACA status to act fast with their renewal process.

“I would encourage them to do that at the earliest possible moment while they still can,” she said. “I hope DACA won’t go away but we can’t say for certainty until congress approves it.”

As lawmakers decide the fate of dreamers, many, like Maria feel their life in Mississippi is in limbo, yet again.

“I have this constant uncertainty, like, ‘Will I ever find a more stable way of being in the U.S.?’” she said.

Before the Supreme Court ruled last year that President Trump illegally tried to remove DACA, Maria sought out other ways to stay in the only place she’s called home.

She considered other legal pathways to apply for a U.S. citizenship, like through her work and mother who recently got her green card. However, a work visa is still temporary and she said applying through her mom would still take a decade or more.

“I would have never guessed I would have had the legal jump ropes that I have to go through now,” she said. “I just constantly question, why do they keep fighting us?”

While the courts still allow dreamers to reapply for DACA, the constant changes and lack of progress among lawmakers have Maria worried.

“The American dream, when we were little, we thought that was a possibility,” she said. “Now, we have to think of it more like we have to treasure every moment.”

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