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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis-Area DACA Recipients Celebrate Federal Court Ruling Reinstating Program

Unauthorized immigrants in rural areas who seek legal representation can often face roadblocks when trying to find credible lawyers.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
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A ruling from a federal judge last week orders the Trump administration to fully reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that allows immigrants who arrived in the U.S. without authorization to stay in the country.

DACA recipients across the St. Louis region are relieved that a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to fully reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that allows young immigrants to stay in the country.

President Barack Obama started the program in 2012 to allow people who entered the U.S. without authorization as children to remain. But the Trump administration stopped taking new applications in 2017.

The judge’s decision last week extends the one-year work permits recipients receive under the Trump rules to two years, as originally implemented. It also allows DACA recipients to apply to travel abroad and opens the application process to hundreds of thousands of now-eligible young immigrants.

That’s a huge win for immigrants in the St. Louis region, immigration advocacy groups, immigration lawyers and DACA recipients said.

“When it came down to it in 2012, I just felt like the doors opened for me,” said Brayan Mejia, a DACA recipient from south St. Louis. “Being able to go to college, pursue an education, and then find a career, it's all about that. DACA for me has been about opportunities and hopes and just a little bit of freedom.”

The decision comes months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration could not arbitrarily end DACA. The high court’s ruling came as a relief to Mejia and other DACA recipients, but the decision by a federal appeals court judge in New York to allow new applicants into the program is something Mejia said is a necessary step that will benefit many.

“I got friends who weren't able to apply before who are looking forward to [applying] now,” said Mejia, a member of MO Dreamers, a Missouri-based advocacy group for DACA recipients and unauthorized immigrants. “I'm hoping that the same opportunities that were open for me that are open for them as well, and we will do everything we can to provide those.”

Mejia and other volunteers will be raising money to help pay the fees of applicants. The fund is organized by Mo Dreamers, the St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America and the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project.

Juan Mendez, a DACA recipient from Madison County, Illinois, hopes President-elect Joe Biden's administration will achieve a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients. He said immigrants will continue to organize and push government officials to act.

“Becoming a citizen would be amazing, you know, I feel like there's still a lot of barriers against this for that opportunity,” said Mendez, who is also a member of MO Dreamers. “We have four years to change a lot with this administration. We do have a voice, we’re going to express our voice one day at a time.”

Though they are encouraged by the legal decisions, Mejia and Mendez both worry about the future of DACA. They are watching lawsuits filed against it, including one in Texas where Republican attorney generals across the country are asking a judge to rule the program illegal.

Immigration attorneys said that while the legal battle continues, the New York ruling is a significant decision for the future for thousands of immigrants across the U.S.

“There are things that are still an uncertainty. As an immigration attorney, we're letting all of our clients and anybody know that, you know, there's no guarantee that this is going to go through, we're still not 100% sure it's going to happen,” said Kristine Walentik, immigration managing attorney for St. Francis Community Services.

“But we want to explain the risks, and we want people to be able to move forward, because it's a lot, it's giving them a lot of hope, and we've had people that have been waiting several years that maybe just aged into the program.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

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