For years, Denea Joseph knew that her life as a black woman without legal status in the U.S. was precarious. Born in Belize, the 26-year-old left her home on a visa when she was 7 years old to join her grandmother in South Los Angeles.
When her visa expired, she remained in the U.S. without legal status because she had no real pathway to legal residency. Even after she was granted immigration relief under a 2012 Obama-era policy that allowed her to live and work legally in the United States, Joseph felt the weight of uncertainty.
"I knew an executive order could be changed any day, at any moment," said Joseph, one of an estimated 700,000 immigrants who are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — better known as DACA. "I had to plan my life incrementally, not knowing where I would be in four years, or three or even two years."
So when the Supreme Court ruled Thursday against President Trump's attempt to shut down the Obama-era program, Joseph relished the moment but was "cautiously optimistic." She is still wary that Trump will find another way to eliminate the program.
Even so, the court's decision reinvigorated Joseph and many like her across California, which is home to more DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers, than any other state — more than 200,000 — and has led the legal fight to defend the program.
"There was always a level of uncertainty if our values and our ability of being on the right side of history would align with the U.S. Supreme Court. Now that we know that it did, we have a lot more fight in us because we have a win.
DACA recipients- were brought to the United States as children, many unaware that they had entered illegally or on visas that later expired. DACA gave them work permits and protection from deportation and was meant to be a temporary. Recipients had to reapply every two years.
In recent years, California has challenged in court the Trump administration's efforts to wind down the program. The University of California, under President Janet Napolitano — who crafted the DACA policy as U.S. Homeland Security secretary — is a lead plaintiff along with the state and other California entities and individuals.
"Today's decision is an important victory, for now, for the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers — including over 200,000 Californians — who contribute deeply to their communities each day," Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. "They are our neighbors, our coworkers and our friends, and in California, we will continue to have their backs."
"We need a permanent solution for undocumented Californians and acknowledge that a pathway to citizenship is not enough," the statement read. "This moment reminds us we are confronting the systemic injustice and racism that exists within our nation and institutions. We will fight for everyone to be treated with dignity and respect."
DACA recipients are doctors and nurses, students and entrepreneurs. Many have pursued degrees at top-ranked universities, launched their own companies and created jobs for U.S. citizens. Some are politicians and Hollywood actors, screenwriters and prominent immigrant and civil rights activists.
Many are students.
J. Jesus Rojas Rivas, who graduated this month from Cal State Fullerton, woke up at 7 a.m. to check his Instagram and saw the news: the high court had saved DACA — and, for now, his future.
Rojas Rivas was brought to Los Angeles from Mexico when he was 3 and worked hard growing up to get to college, where he triple-majored in linguistics, Spanish and Chicana and Chicano studies while holding down a full-time job at McDonald's. He was planning to start his master's program this fall but was steeled for a possible court decision that would have short-circuited his future.
"I was preparing for the worst, preparing myself mentally for bad news, not to take it so hard," Rojas Rivas said Thursday. "But now, I'm so happy. I want to celebrate with my family."
Among DACA recipients are front-line health workers, fighting COVID-19. Oscar Hernandez, a DACA recipient who was brought to the U.S. when he was a toddler, graduated from UCI Medical School last month.
Hernandez, 31, feared he wouldn't complete his five-year residency in Ohio and be able to practice medicine in this country.
"I can go to work tomorrow," Hernandez said. "I can keep pursuing my passion of helping through healthcare. I feel relief. At least for now, I don't have to worry about whether I'm able to stay in this country."
Joseph, an immigrant rights activist, said she had long prepared for the worst. Her tenuous existence under the DACA propelled her to launch her own limited liability company that allowed her to work for herself and make a living without breaking the law.
"I set up the infrastructure … I did so years before this would be brought up to the steps of the court," she said. "I knew this program could be taken away at any time."
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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