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Texas DACA Recipients, Advocates Relieved By Supreme Court Ruling But Seek A Permanent Solution

Emma Chalott Barron, 23, and her mom, Maria, share a moment after learning about the Supreme Court's decison on DACA. The two came to the U.S. when Emma was 7 years old.
Courtesy of Emma Chalott Barron
Emma Chalott Barron, 23, and her mom, Maria, share a moment after learning about the Supreme Court's decison on DACA. The two came to the U.S. when Emma was 7 years old.

For weeks, Emma Chalott Barron had been riddled with anxiety, wondering how the U.S. Supreme Court would rule on the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

The 23-year-old came to the U.S. from Durango, Mexico when she was 7. Today, she works with the North Texas Dream Team, an immigration advocacy group in Dallas, and plans to attend law school in the fall.

On Thursday, she and other DACA recipients across the country celebrated. In a 5-4 vote, the nation’s highest court ruled against President Trump’s plan to end the Obama-era program.

Barron said she was heartened to see that conservative Chief Justice John Roberts had written the majority opinion.

“I’m here at home with my mom and sister right now, and we’re just crying,” Barron said. “I mean, like taking it in and just realizing the magnitude of this moment.”

Many were not expecting this ruling. When the 74-page opinion was issued, Barron, a graduate of Austin College in Sherman, raced to check the Supreme Court’s website.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “The writing on the wall was that we were all going to be mourning and not celebrating today.”

For now, the ruling gives more than 650,000 individuals – commonly referred to as "Dreamers" – a temporary reprieve from deportation and lets them work. Slightly more than 100,000 of them live in Texas.

For Julio Ramos, who’s from the Rio Grande Valley and in his fourth year of medical school in New York, waiting for a decision felt like he was treading water. He said he wasn’t sure if any residency programs would accept him if the court had sided with the Trump Administration to end DACA.

This ruling, he said, means his advocacy work and that of others, wasn’t done in vain.

“It demonstrates the power of activism because various activist groups demanded this from the government, because it wasn’t something that was handed to our community,” Ramos said. “It made us realize that a lot of work had to be done to help America realize that this is our home too.”

Julio Ramos of the Rio Grande Valley is a DACA recipient and in his fourth year of medical school.
Credit Reynaldo Leanos Jr. / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Julio Ramos of the Rio Grande Valley is a DACA recipient and in his fourth year of medical school.

Ramos is joining a growing number of DACA recipients in health care. In 2018, the immigration research and advocacy group New American Economy  estimated 62,600 DACA-eligible individuals worked in the healthcare industry.

Texas has the second largest number of undocumented healthcare workers in the country behind California, according to the group.

Not everyone is pleased with the court’s decision. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas sharply criticized it, calling DACA amnesty and a program that defies federal law.

“Today’s decision from the U.S. Supreme Court is disgraceful,” Cruz said. “Judging is not a game. It’s not supposed to be a game, but sadly, over recent years, more and more Chief Justice Roberts has been playing games with the court to achieve the policy outcomes he desires.”

In a written statement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the decision a disappointment, and said the court didn’t address the question of whether former President Obama exceeded his authority when he implemented the program in 2012.

Sen. John Cornyn, however, was less severe.

“This is just a temporary measure,” the Texas Republican said. “DACA recipients must have a permanent legislative solution. They deserve nothing less. These young men and women have done nothing wrong.”

Laura Collins, director of the Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, said ultimately it’s up to Congress.

She said a form of the so-called Dream Act has been in front of Congress since 2001 but has never passed both chambers.

“It’s nice for Dreamers that have the ability to have DACA to have that reprieve, to have the ability to work and get a driver’s license, but it’s not fully integrating them into our society,” Collins said. “We know that they’re fundamentally American and if we want them to be able to fully participate in our society, we need to have Congress take action.”

While many DACA recipients are overjoyed, they’re worried about what will happen next.

Aura Espinosa and her husband, who live in Houston, both have DACA status.

“There’s always the uncertainty of what the future awaits for us,” she said. “There’s always that anxiety knowing we could get this taken away, then we would be in the shadows.”

U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia cautioned her community -- one in three people in her district are immigrants.

“The fight is far from over,” the Houston Democrat said. “The decision still leaves the door open for this administration or any future administration to put an end to the program if done the right way according to the law.”

Senaida Navar, an English lecturer at the University of Texas at El Paso, echoed those sentiments. The 27-year-old DACA recipient said the current situation isn’t sustainable.

“It’s really not a very health way to live and so we really have to come out on the forefront and start pushing for a more permanent solution,” Navar said.

Others, like Ramos, the medical student, said they hoped the DACA decision opens the door to a permanent solution for all undocumented immigrants.

“Not just students or the youths, but also the people that made all of these contributions to society possible, which is the generation that came before us – the people that migrated to the U.S. – our parents,” he said. “Their livelihood is also at stake whenever we talk about Dreamers.”

Got a tip? Email Reporter Stella Chavez at schavez@kera.org. You can follow her on Twitter at @stellamchavez.

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Copyright 2020 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Stella Chávez is KERA’s education reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35. The award-winning entry was  “Yolanda’s Crossing,” a seven-part DMN series she co-wrote that reconstructs the 5,000-mile journey of a young Mexican sexual-abuse victim from a small Oaxacan village to Dallas. For the last two years, she worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where she was part of the agency’s outreach efforts on the Affordable Care Act and ran the regional office’s social media efforts.
Mallory Falk was WWNO's first Education Reporter. Her four-part series on school closures received an Edward R. Murrow award. Prior to joining WWNO, Mallory worked as Communications Director for the youth leadership non-profit Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools. She fell in love with audio storytelling as a Middlebury College Narrative Journalism Fellow and studied radio production at the Transom Story Workshop.
Mallory Falk
Mallory Falk covers El Paso and the border for the Texas news hub, the prototype for NPR's new system of regional journalism hubs. Previously she worked as a reporter at KRWG in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and WWNO, New Orleans Public Radio. Her reporting has aired nationally on programs including Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Here & Now. A winner of multiple regional Edward R. Murrow awards, Mallory is based in El Paso, and is part of the national Report for America project, which aims to support journalists in underserved areas of America.
Reynaldo Leaños Jr. can be reached at reynaldo@tpr.org and on Twitter at @ReynaldoLeanos
Elizabeth Trovall / Houston Public Media