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Decades Of Uncertainty Continue As Trump Blocks New DACA Applicants

Franklin Henriquez was able to graduate with a degree in political science thanks to the DACA program.
Elizabeth Trovall | Houston Public Media
Franklin Henriquez was able to graduate with a degree in political science thanks to the DACA program.

The Trump administration on Wednesday announced it will not allow eligible immigrants to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals if they are applying for the first time.

And though current DACA recipients will be able to continue renewing their protections, they’ll now have to do it every year, instead of every two years, according to the Department of Homeland Security announcement.

The announcement is another milestone in a long journey for “Dreamers” in their fight for protection against deportation.

‘The big enchilada’

Two decades ago, immigration reform wasn’t the hot-button, partisan issue it is today. When Texas Gov. George W. Bush became the GOP’s nominee for president in 2000, he took a less hardline approach to immigration than recent Republican candidates and praised Latino values as Republican values.

“The largest lesson I learned in Midland still guides me as governor of Texas: Everyone, from immigrant to entrepreneur, has an equal claim on this country’s promise,” Bush said in his speech at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

Bush won the White House with 35% of the Latino vote. The same year, Mexico elected a reform president, Vicente Fox.

“These were two pro-immigrant presidents and all the hopes were that now we’re going to have the ‘big enchilada’, as the Mexicans used to called it, of an immigration reform,” said Muzaffar Chishti, senior policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute.

In August 2001, the very first DREAM Act came from a Republican, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.

The legislation would protect Dreamers — young, law-abiding immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and don’t have legal status.

But, one month later, everything changed when hijackers flew two planes into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

Dashed dreams

President Bush and Congress prioritized the “war on terror,” and instead of a DREAM Act, a new federal agency was born: Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We know (after) what happened in 9/11, any possibility of immigration reform collapsed when immigration was seen as related to national security now,” said Chishti.

Though some still did try to pass immigration reform, including protections for Dreamers, it wasn’t a political priority.

Finally, in 2007, Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin got closer than anyone to passing Dreamer legislation in the Senate.

Durbin remembers the day of the vote well.

“The galleries were filled with these young Dreamers and they were wearing caps and gowns to send the message that they were students and had aspirations to use their education and make this a better country,” Durbin said.

They were nervous, he said — winning was a long shot.

“When the vote came in and we fell short of 60, it was devastating,” Durbin said. “There were tears being shed, people crying. I met with them afterwards. It was one of the most emotional meetings I’ve ever had.”

In December 2010, Congress got close again. A DREAM Act passed in the House of Representatives, but later failed in the Senate, where Democrats were unable to drum up enough Republican support.

Volunteers with United We Dream in Houston block walk to ask East End residents to vote with Dreamers in mind.
Credit Elizabeth Trovall | Houston Public Media
Volunteers with United We Dream in Houston block walk to ask East End residents to vote with Dreamers in mind.

‘Undocumented and unafraid’

Despite the legislative failures, the Dreamer movement grew stronger. Similar to LGBTQ activism, Dreamers told their own “coming out” stories. They would reveal their status at rallies, in interviews and to friends.

“Undocumented and unafraid” became a rallying cry.

Gaby Pacheco was among the first high-profile Dreamer activists.

In 2010, Pacheco marched from Florida to Washington, D.C. with fellow Dreamers and activists. Along the way, she told people about the plight of Dreamers.

“A lot of people — I would say, 95% of the people we had opportunities to talk to — didn’t know what was happening, and were misinformed. And so we were able to change a lot of people’s hearts and minds,” Pacheco told NPR.


The public’s awareness was growing. But Dreamers still didn’t have any protections.

Then, in 2012, President Barack Obama took a political risk: He announced the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which today protects 650,000 people from deportation.

“Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people,” Obama said.

“Over the next few months, eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization,” he said.

It was a huge win for Dreamers. But Congress didn’t create a permanent fix during the Obama Administration, ultimately giving President Donald Trump the opportunity to try and end the program.

It’s been hard to watch the Trump administration go after these protections, according to Franklin Henriquez. He’s a Dreamer in Houston and remembers how DACA gave him new opportunities to study and work.

“Every step of the way there’s been people who just don’t want to support DACA, and finally the Supreme Court steps in our side and see how (much) of a good impact Dreamers are.”

Dreamers like Henriquez won more protection thanks to five votes on the Supreme Court, including one from a conservative justice.

Their decision in June upheld the program — for now.

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