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Local DACA recipients express joy, relief as Supreme Court upholds immigrant protections

Ivania Castillo from Prince William County, Va., holds a banner to show her support for dreamer Miriam from California, as she joins DACA recipients celebrating in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, after justices upheld the program.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
/
The Associated Press
Ivania Castillo from Prince William County, Va., holds a banner to show her support for dreamer Miriam from California, as she joins DACA recipients celebrating in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, after justices upheld the program.

More than 16,000 undocumented immigrants in Washington state are authorized to work here through DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. The Obama-era protection allowed immigrants to retain their authorization to work, free from the fear of deportation.  

And Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the program in a 5-4 decision, prompting joy and relief from many who benefit from it.

José Manuel Vasquez came to the U.S. from Mexico with his family when he was 7 years old. He’s a DACA recipient and now works for the City of Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. Vasquez told KNKX Public Radio that he’s always been living with some worry about his ability to stay here.

“We are still living with that constant fear of being deported, but we just didn’t know what to expect from the Supreme Court,” Vasquez said. “So I’m glad they decided in the right side of history.”

Vasquez says the next thing that needs to happen is for Congress to pass legislation to fix what he calls our complicated and broken immigration system. He says the current situation has left many people in limbo for decades, even as they pay taxes into programs such as Medicare that they are not eligible to receive.

'CHANGE IS COMING'

Graciela Nuñez is another DACA recipient who lives in Seattle. She says this decision gives momentum to the recent nationwide protests and will help unite people of color.

“It takes some time for change to come, but change is coming,” Nuñez said. “And now as immigrant youth we can really focus on elevating the voices of Black immigrants, as well as Black Latinos who are facing the consequences of racism in this country.”

Nuñez says she has no illusions that the Supreme Court decision will put an end to the debates over immigration. But she says it is a win and for her and other DACA recipients, and it’s a chance to breathe a sigh of relief after years of living with fear.

Thursday’s 5-4 decision rejected President Donald Trump’s effort to end the legal protections for 650,000 young immigrants nationwide. Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the four liberal justices in the majority.

PUSH TO EXPAND DACA

The Supreme Court’s decision is now fueling calls to extend the program’s legal protections to more undocumented immigrants.

Kamau Chege lives in Seattle and is a DACA recipient. He’s one of the people hoping that this decision will lead to more protections for people like his parents, who work as caregivers and are undocumented. He and his family came here from Kenya when he was a child.

Chege said the coronavirus pandemic has left undocumented people particularly vulnerable because they are not allowed to receive unemployment benefits.  

“Every unemployed undocumented worker who isn’t able to access that insurance is a family that’s in crisis,” he said, adding that families without a safety net then lead to neighborhoods that are destabilized.

That’s why Chege and other immigrant-rights advocates are calling for Gov. Jay Inslee to create a $100 million COVID-19 relief fund to help undocumented workers who have lost their jobs.

But the economic fallout from the pandemic means the state faces its own cash crunch. Washington is now contending with a projected drop of almost $9 billion in tax revenue over the next three years.