When recent UT Austin graduate Kevin Robles woke up Thursday morning, he checked his phone, saw the breaking news notification and felt some of the fears he’s been holding the last few years dissipate.
The Supreme Court ruled the Trump administration can’t immediately end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, keeping Robles and some 700,000 other young immigrants known as Dreamers safe from deportation for the time being.
“I’m protected, and I don’t have fear of me leaving my family,” he said. “I don’t have fear of me being taken to another country to work which I don’t know.”
In a 5-4 decision, the court said the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to rescind DACA was arbitrary and capricious.
“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.”
This means Robles can keep living and working in Austin. But, he says, the court's decision is only the beginning.
“To me, I see this mostly as a starting point,” he said. “I want to see an opportunity or path for me to advance to either residency or citizenship.”
DACA allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to live and work in the country legally. The Obama administration created the program in 2012 through an executive order.
Shortly after he took office, President Donald Trump tried to end the program, saying it was illegal and unconstitutional. When his administration announced in 2017 it was ending DACA, several lawsuits were filed.
Three U.S. district courts issued nationwide injunctions, allowing people who were already DACA recipients to continue to renew their protections. The Trump administration hasn’t accepted new applications, however.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed last year to pick up the case. But until the justices' decision Thursday, DACA recipients like Robles were left in a sort of limbo, not knowing if their livelihoods in the U.S. would soon come to an end.
Robles came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 6 years old. His family lived in California for a while before moving to Texas, where he attended high school and college.
Growing up, he knew he had to keep his immigration status a secret out of fear of being deported. But DACA opened up doors. He was able to work, have a bank account and attend university.
“It meant everything to me,” he said. “I no longer had to keep a secret of who I am and my identity. … It gave me a temporary [Social Security number] and the ability to work. That right there is a lifesaver since I could actually start to make money and live my life.”
With DACA’s fate up in the air, he said, it was difficult to make long-term plans. The coronavirus pandemic only made things more uncertain. Instead of finishing his final semester of college in a classroom and frequenting his professors’ office hours, Robles was logging into Zoom sessions and turning in assignments from his Austin apartment. After the bar he managed closed its doors, he also filed for unemployment benefits – which he may not have gotten if he weren’t protected by DACA.
Adriana Quiroga is a community organizer in Austin with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. RAICES provides legal services for immigrant children and families in Texas. She said she recognizes DACA was never intended to be a long-term program, and while it doesn’t provide a pathway to citizenship, it does give people the ability to live and work in the country where they grew up without fear of deportation.
“There’s always been a threat to DACA, so I think to a certain extent it didn’t fully give people that sense of peace about living in this country,” she told KUT in April. “But it did ensure that folks did have pathways to be able to work and have some sort of paper or document to show that they are here lawfully if they are ever stopped by a cop or an ICE officer.”
Many DACA recipients are essential workers — about 27,000 are health care workers, including some in Austin. Not knowing whether DACA would continue created a lot of anxiety for recipients, Quiroga said.
Thursday’s decision doesn’t mean that uncertainty has gone away entirely, said Edwin Romero, a DACA recipient who works as a legal assistant in RAICES’ Dallas office. He said the decision came as a surprise and let’s recipients like himself breathe a sigh of relief – at least temporarily.
“There’s still going to be some kind of uncertainty,” he said. “Although the Supreme Court held that President Trump broke the law or unlawfully tried to cancel DACA, that still leaves the door open for them to try to cancel it in a different way.”
Romero said RAICES is celebrating the win, but the organization knows there’s still work to do.
“There are a lot of DACA recipients that might not even tell their friends or people they know about their status because they still have that fear,” he said. “That’s completely fine. We understand. It’s harder for some people to come out of that shadow. What we say to them is celebrate this victory, and those of us that can will continue to fight for something even better.”
Now fresh out of college, Robles feels the decision means he can start making his plans for the future more concrete. He got his general manager job back when the bar reopened, so he’s working now with limited hours. He’ll be moving into a new apartment in Austin soon, too.
He got his degree in international studies and global relations, so he’s had an eye on working in the international sector or maybe going back to get his master’s. But his priority has always been supporting his family.
“My main goal was to help my mom to make sure she doesn’t have to pay another bill and to make sure my brother’s good,” he said. “I’m happy with any job I could take that would pay me and that would help me provide.”
Got a tip? Email Marisa Charpentier at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.
If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation to support it. Your gift pays for everything you find on KUT.org. Thanks for donating today.