East TN DACA recipients relieved after Supreme Court’s ruling


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — It was a moment for people who immigrated to the United States as children to rejoice after the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration could not immediately end DACA.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was implemented in the Obama administration in 2012. The program protected children who were brought into the US illegally from deportation, allowed them to work, get secondary education and drive.

Recipients must reapply every two years and pay a $500 fee per application.

Claudia Caballero, president of Centro Hispano de East Tennessee, said she was ecstatic about the Supreme Court’s decision.

She said that these children are as close to being natural citizens as those who were born in the US. They only know America as their home, and not having DACA would be detrimental.

“It affects people mentally, emotionally, financially. It’s not just a paper. It’s your entire life,” Caballero said.

Nancy Gonzalez moved to America with her family when she was 6 years old. She was able to apply to DACA when the Obama administration first implemented the program.

Gonzalez’s younger cousin also moved to America at the same time. She said he was 3 years old.

The Trump administration had decided to end the DACA program shortly after he started high school.

Her younger cousin is all she could think about when she heard the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“My first thing in my head is I can finally have a moment of breath for my family because he would be the last one to get that experience of having a license, having a work permit, and giving back to the country,” Gonzalez said.

Elman Gonzales had a similar situation when DACA was first announced by the Obama administration.

“Prior to DACA, I was undocumented and I wasn’t sure if I was going to college or not, you know what I mean? Like I’ve always enjoyed school, and I was in honor classes making good grades, making all As, and I’m like ‘I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to go to college,'” Gonzales said.

He said he didn’t know he was technically undocumented until middle school.

Gonzales has three younger siblings, one of which is also a DACA recipient.

He was able to graduate from Middle Tennessee State University because of DACA.

On the other hand, because of DACA, he had to have two jobs while earning his degree.

RELATED: Young undocumented immigrants are safe — but Democrats say likely not for long

While DACA helps children who immigrated to the US have somewhat normal lives, Caballero said DACA isn’t a permanent fix and it’s costly.

She said recipients are often left in limbo. They can’t apply for citizenship while a recipient, and they can’t receive any grants for college.

Most states, like Tennessee, make DACA recipients pay out-of-state tuition for their schooling, on top of not being able to receive grants.

Luis Mata, a now former DACA recipient, said he felt privileged to even be a recipient, but it wasn’t easy to make it through his first several semesters of college at the University of Tennessee.

“I signed up for one course every semester…to put that in perspective, for one course a semester out-of-state was equivalent to one full-time in-state semester,” Mata said.

Nancy Gonzalez said to even out the playing field a little, as far as tuition goes, her best option was a private college.

She said a private college had more resources available for DACA recipients, and tuition is high for everyone, not just out-of-state students.

Elman Gonzales said he was supposed to go to physicians assistant school, but because he can’t receive financial help due to DACA, he was unable to register.

Caballero said that although the Supreme Court ruling was a huge step in the right direction, migrated children and immigrants have more to fight for.

DACA doesn’t have a path to citizenship, which means a recipient couldn’t apply for citizenship.

Mata also said that the language of the Supreme Court’s ruling doesn’t make DACA permanent. It simply argues that how the Trump administration tried to end the program wasn’t the proper way to end it.

RELATED: Advocates hail DACA ruling, but say ‘Dreamers’ need permanent legalization

Gonzales, Mata and Gonzalez all said that even though they are happy about the decision, they felt as though their lives weren’t actually being considered. They felt like toys getting tossed around.

Mata said people ask too often how they, as migrated children, were contributing to society, not taking advantage of it.

He said they shouldn’t have to be asked that question.

“People have to view DACA recipients as humans, not base them off their accolades, accomplishments, how they’re contributing to society. However, with DACA, that’s exactly what that does though. You know, it’s answering that question directly,” Mata said.


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