10 years after the creation of DACA, Dreamers is still in play | WUWM 89.7 FM



For the past decade, Erika Rosales has spent a lot of time worrying about how DACA legal challenges would disrupt her life. The past few months of waiting for the latest news on the status of the program were no different.

Rosales directs the Center for DREAMers at UW-Madison, which supports students with DACA throughout Wisconsin, providing services such as legal counseling, career coaching, and help with their DACA applications. She is also a beneficiary herself, so it is difficult to deal with the ups and downs of the program, both personally and professionally.

“It never gets easier,” Rosales said.

Since its inception in 2012, DACA – short for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – has protected hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation, including approximately 6,500 in Wisconsin today. They came from many countries, including Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and South Korea.

The program opened many doors for this generation, known as the Dreamers, for the DREAM Act, which would have given them permanent protection but ultimately did not pass Congress. DACA status allows recipients to work, as well as obtain social security numbers and driver’s licenses, in some states.

But DACA’s protection is limited — it comes in renewable two-year installments — and the program is on shaky legal ground. With all the legal challenges over the years, including old President Trump’s attempt to revoke the program in 2017, one of the most reliable things about DACA was its uncertainty.

In the latest of these challenges, last week, a the federal appeals court ruled that DACA is illegal.

The 5th United States Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the program – for now. This means approximately 600,000 people like Rosales can continue to renew their status. But many Dreamers cannot apply for the first time, while the lawsuit is unresolved. There are currently around 1.3 million eligible people across the country.

“This decision is honestly not surprising,” Rosales said. “But it’s overwhelming in the sense that it continues to reaffirm the burden that we have to carry.”

The ruling upheld a ruling from last summer, on a lawsuit that Texas and eight other states filed against DACA in 2018. Last June, a Texas-based district judge ruled that the program was created unlawfully when former President Obama created it through executive action, rather than through Congress.

The Biden administration appealed that decision. Then, in late August, President Biden tried to shield the program with a so-called final rule, making DACA law. Yet these efforts have been met with disappointment of immigrant advocateswho said Biden’s rule had taken a conservative course in not expanding DACA, well short of necessary protections.

The latest ruling sends the case back to the lower district court, instructed to review Biden’s new rule, which goes into effect Oct. 31.

“DACA is not long-lasting protection,” Rosales said. “Even though he stays for now, he continues to be in danger.”

Marchers pass under I-794, before turning east on Wisconsin Ave, during a protest in May 2022.

Lawyers fear the ongoing battle will end in the Supreme Court.

“If appealed – which it probably would be – it would go to the Supreme Court,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voice of La Frontera, a Milwaukee-based immigrant rights organization. “Given the very conservative nature of the Supreme Court, it will likely withdraw the protected status that [recipients] have had over the past 10 years.

It would affect millions of people – not just DACA recipients, but their friends, family, neighbors and co-workers.

“Their lives are at stake,” Neumann-Ortiz said. “People who have had the opportunity to build a life and support their families and live without fear of eviction – that could change dramatically.”

DACA recipients are a huge force in the economy. In Wisconsin they pay nearly $16 million in taxes, and perform essential jobs in agriculture, health and education. For many, Wisconsin is the only home they have ever known.

A woman with black curly hair looks seriously at the camera.  She holds an anti-immigration protest sign that calls on Biden to protect all immigrants.

Courtesy of Alondra Garcia


Alondra Garcia in a demonstration against immigration with Voces de la Frontera

Alondra Garcia is one of those people. In 1999, she moved to the south side of Milwaukee from Michoacán, Mexico as a child. Today, she is a bilingual teacher at Allen-Field Elementary School.

When DACA was first announced, Garcia was a sophomore in high school. His father told him that they would help him apply right away. He thought it would make his life better, she said.

Garcia’s DACA status came with more responsibility at a young age. In Wisconsin, undocumented people are not allowed to obtain a driver’s license. Garcia was the first in her family to get a permit, and her mother relied on her to get to work.

Eventually, thanks to her DACA status, Garcia went to college, launched a career in education, and helped provide stability for her parents and two younger sisters. She said DACA let her live her own American dream – but limited, clouded by an uncertain future.

“I see my parents struggling in $15 an hour jobs and I see they’re still in the same situation,” Garcia said. “I’m in a better place because I went to college, got a degree, and got a job that’s allowed me to live a pretty good life so far.”

His achievements were very expensive. The DACA application costs $495, a fee required with each renewal.

“It’s painful to pay for this,” said Garcia, who has renewed her status five times now.

Undocumented students are not eligible for federal financial aid, and in Wisconsin they must pay high out-of-state tuition fees.

That’s why Garcia ended up attending a private college: They offered more financial support than public schools in Wisconsin at the time. Still, Garcia worked multiple jobs — as a tutor, babysitter, and cafeteria assistant — to fund her education and DACA fees.

Legal battles aside, there’s also the angst of living two years at a time. Planning for the future is difficult, said Garcia, who dreams of one day going to graduate school and becoming a school administrator.

“I want to get there, but having DACA won’t make it easy for me to get there,” she said. She imagined herself getting halfway through a master’s program to lose her status. “Having to work on it, with all these fears, knowing it can be okay poof.”

Advocates have long called on Congress to create permanent protection for undocumented immigrants and a pathway to citizenship. But the government has so far failed to push through immigration reform.

“We need a permanent solution now,” Garcia said. “It’s time. It’s been long overdue.

Garcia said it starts with local elections, like the upcoming midterm elections. As a “DACAmented” citizen, she cannot vote, so those who can, she said, you need to run and elect legislators who will support the immigrant community.

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