Threats to DACA still loom after 9 years, say Dreamers

By: - June 18, 2021 5:45 am
DACA rally DC

DACA recipients and their supporters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on June 18, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Nearly a decade after a temporary program was established to shield young undocumented immigrants from deportation, Senate Democrats are eyeing legislative action that would provide a permanent solution.

This week marks nine years since the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama-era policy that provides deportation relief and work permits to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

The American Dream and Promise Act, which would provide a path to citizenship to DACA recipients, was approved in the U.S. House in March. On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing over the bill.

But despite President Joe Biden’spledges to make DACA protections permanent and recent legislative victories in Congress, many Dreamers feel their position remains uncertain.

“This is a bitter sweet anniversary because there is a lot of uncertainty around it,” said DACA recipient Rico Ocampa. “The uncertain nature of our future in this country has permeated every aspect of our lives from our families to our future.”

Now a father of two U.S. born children, Ocampa has lived in the country since he was three years old and currently works as an organizer for Make the Road Nevada, an immigrant rights group.

“As long as I can remember we’ve been told to just wait and that’s the message we always receive. Just wait,” Ocampa said. “We can no longer wait.”

For nine years Ocampa has been protected under the DACA program. He says not knowing if his place in this county is permanent weighs on him everyday.

“My urgency comes from the urgency of a father and of a husband,” Ocampa said.

Across three presidential administrations, Dreamers have waited for the U.S. government to grant them permanent residency.

The latest federal data show more than 12,000 active DACA recipients live in Nevada.

Maria Nieto of Las Vegas is one of thousands.

Born in Mexico but raised in the U.S., Nieto was in high school when she first received temporary protections through DACA. Now 21, Nieto has lived in the U.S. for nearly two decades but her status  remains under legal threat.

“I’m still weary and honestly I think it’s because it’s constantly being threatened. I want to be hopeful. I would love some sort of pathway to citizenship or safety beyond DACA but I also don’t want to get my hopes up again,” Nieto said.

The program has allowed Nieto to work as the state director of Mi Familia Vota while attending the University of Nevada, Las Vegas full time as a political science major. One of the many downsides to her temporary status, however, is that she is ineligible for federal assistance, forcing her to pay for school out of pocket.

“There’s been a lot of back and forth over whether the program deserves to stay or not. It’s a little crappy, to be honest, to have to experience this over and over every couple of years,” said Nieto.

Another challenge the program faces is a 2018 lawsuit that challenges the legality of the DACA program. A federal judge in Texas is expected to soon rule whether to strike down the program entirely.

“If you look at the court decision that’s still pending from Texas that can essentially eliminate DACA, that’s why our delegation needs to get something done,” Erica Castro, director of the Nevada Immigation Coalition and a DACA recipient.

Given Democrats’ razor-thin majorities in Congress, the likelihood of the American Dream and Promise Act making it through the Senate is not guaranteed, although the bill has some bipartisan support.

“We know that for anything to move forward in Congress we would need 60 votes and unfortunately we wouldn’t have those additional 10 Republican votes when it comes to imigration,” Castro said. “That’s definitely a worry we have.”

Democrats would need to convince 10 Senate Republicans, the minimum votes needed to move a bill forward. Democrats’ only option for immigration reform may be the reconciliation process, which allows bills to be passed by majority vote, a strategy immigration advocates support.

“At some point bipartisan conversations need to go somewhere, and if they don’t they need to be dropped,” Ocampa said. “And reconciliation needs to be on the table.”

The program has also faced challenges left over from the previous administration. Earlier this week, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto sent a letter to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service rebuking the agency for ongoing delays to reopen DACA for new applicants.

“Luckily we do have elected officials who support us,” Nieto said.

Still, despite challenges, DACA recipients say they are hopeful that some form of citizenship measures can make it through Congress under the Biden administration. 

“I do think it can pass, however, there needs to be a strategic plan,” Ocampo said. “We see that elected officials are tweeting statements in support of us but we need them to go beyond that. We need them to work twice as hard.”

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Jeniffer Solis
Jeniffer Solis

Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.