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NYC DACA Recipients Rejoice Over Surprise Supreme Court Decision

A church in Corona, Queens advocates for immigrants during the COVID-19 outbreak.
A sign on a church in Corona, Queens, advocates for immigrants
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

After bracing themselves for the end of the Obama-era program that shielded thousands of young immigrants from deportation, New Yorkers brought to the U.S as children are breathing a sigh of relief.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Trump administration couldn’t proceed with plans to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which has granted work authorization to roughly 650,000 undocumented Americans while shielding them from deportation.

Nearly 29,000 undocumented New Yorkers who came to the U.S. before the age of 16 are DACA beneficiaries. Among them is 27-year-old Raul Contreras, who woke up Thursday morning to a barrage of missed calls and text messages from friends and family alerting him to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision.

“It felt very much the same way as when Barack Obama announced [DACA] the first time,” Contreras told THE CITY. “There’s this huge feeling of relief.”

“The world is full of possibility — full of opportunity,” he added.

DACA recipient Raul Contreras has words tattooed on him from the famed Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty.
DACA recipient Raul Contreras has words tattooed on him from the famed Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty, March 5, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The Chilean native — who arrived in New York with his family when he was just a few months old in 1993 — left his corporate communications job in March. He was looking to get back into the public sector, where he previously worked as a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

But the December expiration date on his work authorization granted through DACA loomed over Contreras as the Supreme Court weighed the fate of the program.

“You lose this motivation because you have this expiration date over your head,” he said.

‘A Ray of Sunshine’

The decision from a majority conservative court came to a shock to immigration experts and advocates who had been preparing for an end to the program.

“In these very difficult times, the Supreme Court provided a bright ray of sunshine this week,” said a visibly emotional Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) during a speech on Capitol Hill this morning — alluding also to a second court ruling guaranteeing workplace rights to LGBT Americans.

“Wow. This decision is amazing,” he said, wiping his eyes with a tissue.

Sen. Chuck Schumer
Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks at the State of the Bronx address, Feb. 21, 2019.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

While the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services suggests that DACA recipients renew their status 150 days before expiration, Contreras filed his renewal application in April as a precaution. He’s still waiting for final approval, but feels “relief” at the possibility of being able to “secure a more stable future.”

“With that expiration date you’re always planning and thinking of that next step you have to take,” Contreras said.

No ‘Reasoned Explanation’

On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump vowed to end DACA, which his predecessor Obama had created in 2012.

Immigration authorities stopped accepting new cases in October 2017. Meanwhile, the program continued accepting renewals for those already granted deferred action, with renewal rules eased due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the majority ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration failed to provide a “reasoned explanation” for ending the program.

“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” Roberts wrote. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.”

The Trump administration could try again to rescind the program with new reasoning behind the termination — making the ruling a “temporary Band-Aid,” said Assemblymember Catalina Cruz (D-Queens) who was previously undocumented.

“For more than two years we had lived with the fear that they would once again face separation from their families and deportation to a country that was no longer their home. But more work must be done,” she said in a text message to THE CITY.

“We need real immigration reform that will ensure that every undocumented immigrant, including the original DREAMers, our parents, have a path to citizenship.”

Pinching Pennies

The uncertainty over the DACA program has been “terrible” and “really draining” for Zara K., who arrived in Brooklyn from her native Morocco 20 years ago.

Zara, which is her middle name, was alerted to the DACA decision through a text message from THE CITY.

While Zara’s work authorization through DACA doesn’t expire until October 2021, in the months leading up to Thursday’s decision she had been putting away some of her paycheck from working in the hospitality industry and building up her savings just in case the program was rescinded.

The last few months have been challenging, and it’s been “hard to stay positive at times,” she said.

But Zara, who’s 33, says she hopes that the Supreme Court’s decision to rebuff the Trump administration’s push to end the program opens a path to citizenship or green cards to qualified individuals.

She ended her text with a series of emoji that includes hands pressed together in thanks, a heart and clinking Champagne glasses.

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