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Expulsion of Dreamers – 16,000 in metro Atlanta – possible without permanent solution

By David Pendered

Christian Olvera offered a few words of resolve to Dreamers who, like him, suffered another setback when a federal judge in Texas ruled the Obama-era DACA program unlawful.

Central Presbyterian Church, in Downtown Atlanta, is among the faith-based organizations that support new arrivals from distant lands. Credit: Kelly Jordan

“Remain focused, and patient, and diligent in progress,” Olvera said Saturday evening after he got off work from a retail job in Dalton. “If we lose our patience, if we lose our hope, it’s all over.”

The buzz over the July 16 DACA ruling has been that current recipients, including Olvera, will not be deported. This affects a significant number of recipients in metro Atlanta: About 16,000 individuals in metro Atlanta, and 24,000 in Georgia, were enrolled in DACA in 2020.

However, the injunction contains two poison pills that could eliminate temporary reprieves in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program :

  • The relief for current DACA recipients is temporary and will last only “until a further order of this court, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals or the United States Supreme Court.”
  • The judge will revoke the temporary reprieve: “If the government fails to take the appropriate steps to remedy the shortfalls in DACA within a reasonable time given the complexities in such a process, the Court will reconsider its decision to stay portions of the relief that it has granted, if an appropriate motion is filed.”

In addition, the ruling bars the federal government from granting any DACA applications submitted after July 19.

U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen. Credit: wikimedia.org

U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen issued the ruling July 16 in Houston. Texas is the lead plaintiff and the United States is the primary defendant. The roster of plaintiffs includes Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia, Hanen noted.

In vacating the DACA rule, Hanen sought to help the current recipients while giving the Biden administration and Congress a window of unspecified duration to enact a permanent solution. Hanen wrote:

  • “Hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients, along with their employers, states, and loved ones, have come to rely on the DACA program…. Given those interests, it is not equitable for a government program that has engendered such significant reliance to terminate suddenly.”

DACA was established in 2012 after “multiple failed attempts by Congress to pass an act granting lawful status to aliens who were illegally brought to this country as children…,” Hanen wrote.

Yehimi Cambrón, homepage

Atlanta muralist Yehimi Cambrón is a DACA recipient who kept her business open during the cornavirus pandemic with projects including this one in Hapeville: ‘We Give Each Other the World.’ File/Credit: Yehimi Cambrón

Olvera said the level of uncertainty over legal status reaches beyond how long the recipients can stay in the country. It affects the types of jobs they can take. Out-of-country travel is severely restricted, Olvera said:

  • “I would be at my wits end if I had to travel for work. Or needed to do anything international.”

A bargain-priced vacation to the Bahamas or Caribbean, Cancun or Canada is out of the question:

  • “I joke with my peers – I can go, but I can’t come back.”

DACA was enacted during the Obama administration. The purpose was to allow certain minors brought into the country illegally to remain here, while Congress establishes an immigration program. Such a program has not been enacted.

President Joe Biden called for congressional action in a July 17 statement, in which he announced the Justice Department intends to appeal the ruling in the Texas case.

After stating the Department of Homeland Security will issue a proposed DACA rule “in the near future,” a review that was ordered in a Supreme Court ruling last summer, Biden observed:

  • “But only Congress can ensure a permanent solution by granting a path to citizenship for Dreamers that will provide the certainty and stability that these young people need and deserve. I have repeatedly called on Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act, and I now renew that call with the greatest urgency. It is my fervent hope that through reconciliation or other means, Congress will finally provide security to all Dreamers, who have lived too long in fear.”

Two Georgia lawmakers have cosponsored House Resolution 6, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 – Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, of Suwanee, and Rep. Nikema Williams, of Atlanta.

Olvera said he knows folks who live every day in uncertainty over their legal status.

“There are parents, and a DACA recipient with an eight-year career who can’t go through this limbo anymore,” Olvera said. “There needs to be a permanent solution.”

The ruling comes as another blow to the effort of creating a life, a career and family in the United States, Olvera said:

  • “It’s definitely a hit to the morale of the Dreamer community. This is our first negative under the Biden administration, and we were not expecting this with the current administration.
  • “Of course, we’re not done until we have a permanent resolution to Dreamers. We’re not going to get down. We’re going to continue to work hard. We just want a clear pathway. We want to make a five-year plan for our lives, with no hesitation, instead of making two-year plans.”

DACA began granting two-year grants of deferred action to DACA recipients on Dec . 7, 2020, in response to a federal court order, according to a report by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The page provides a snapshot of DACA regulations.

Note to readers: The Supreme Court ruling on a major DACA case in 2020 ensured immigration will be a major issue for President Biden and Congress. Click here to read excerpts of comments by notable participants in the case decided 5-4, in a ruling in which Chief Justice John Roberts sided with four liberal justices and wrote for the majority.



David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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