Posted June 19, 202010:52 am
t was an emotional morning when Anabel Barron saw the Supreme Court's rejection of efforts to end protections for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
Barron, a community health and support services case worker and immigration applicant for El Centro de Servicio Sociales in Lorain, said the court's decision to strike down President Donald Trump's effort to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, provides a sigh of relief for the city's immigrant community.
"We were crying, we were very happy and there's a lot of families I can tell you here in Lorain that were in tears this morning because of the ruling," she said.
The 8-year-old program allows undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to apply for protections every two years. Those accepted can obtain a work permit, driver's license and Social Security number. Recipients must go through an extensive background check, including having no criminal record. Those who are accepted into the program and later get arrested can face deportation.
Trump attempted to end the program in 2017. The Department of Homeland Security continued to process two-year renewals, but no new applications were accepted.
Thursday marked a 5-4 outcome in recipients' favor, allowing upward of 650,000 to remain in the United States. Roughly 240 of those are in Lorain, Barron said, many coming to the U.S. when they were toddlers and are more American than they are Mexican or Central American.
"This morning when I began receiving phone calls from all of the people that I work with, we were celebrating because people were in fear," she said. "They were living in fear of going back to their country, and we have to remember that DACA recipients, the ones that I work with here in Lorain County, they came here when they were like 1-, 2-years-old. The oldest one was 5. So they don't remember anything about Mexico."
Many of those Barron works with are parishioners at Sacred Heart Chapel in Lorain, which operates the Lorain Ohio Immigrant Rights Association. Barron is also the vice-president of the association.
Sister Cathy McConnell of LOIRA said the ruling gives hope there is an opportunity, but she viewed it with caution.
"DACA is still very much endangered because it's very difficult for people to know whether they should re-register," she said.
Recipients must complete paperwork providing the government with their address and other information, and must make periodic check-ins. There is also a fee to renew, now roughly $500.
"While DACA can't be eradicated by the administration, it's almost lying dormant. People don't know what their status is,” McConnell sad.
In a practical way, “there is no major difference between today or yesterday for people who are living in this limbo,” she added.
The November presidential election could reshape that outlook for DACA families in Lorain County — but if Trump is re-elected, “nothing will change,” she said.
Jose Mendez, of Cleveland, is a DACA recipient and member of the Greater Cleveland Immigrant Support Network. He came to Ohio with his family when he was 7 and was approved for DACA in the later half of 2012. While he is happy Chief Justice John Roberts and the four liberal justices landed "on the right side of history," DACA recipients are still at risk.
"We still have to not get arrested," he said. "Some DACA recipients got arrested for marching or peacefully protesting and now they're facing deportation because they were peacefully protesting and it's like, just because you're a DACA recipient does not mean that you cannot be deported ... you have some kind of shield protection but at the same time it's not permanent. We have to be very careful of the things we do or where we work."
Greater Cleveland Immigrant Support Network director Don Bryant was elated by the ruling.
The concern now, he said, is that Trump will find a new way to carry out anti-DACA efforts.
That leaves recipients worrying about what the future holds.
“They can at least start to live their lives again,” Bryant said. “But there is still no legislation to protect them.”
Melanie Shakarian, communications director for the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, said what’s next after the Supreme Court’s ruling could take months.
“The court’s ruling (Thursday) means that the current presidential administration has to provide a more robust legal justification for ending DACA to the lower courts,” Shakarian said. “It definitely, for people who felt like they were in limbo, can feel a little more safe.”
Shakarian said giving further justification to lower courts is a process that takes some time, which means recipients can continue to work for the time being. The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, which has an office in Elyria, provides aid to those who would have questions about being allowed to work or what it would mean for a DACA recipient to continue working.
Thursday's ruling was the second time in two years that Chief Justice Roberts and the liberal justices faulted the administration for the way it went about a policy change that impacted immigrant communities. Last year, the court forced the administration to back off a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
The Supreme Court's four conservative justices dissented to the majority opinion, writing DACA was illegal from the moment it was created under the Obama administration in 2012. Justice Clarence Thomas called the ruling “an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision.”
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a separate dissent that he was satisfied that the administration acted appropriately.
Mendez hoped those who missed out on applications could be accepted into the program. Barron said there were a lot of DACA-eligible immigrants who chose not to apply out of fear — as the application means turning over theirs and their parent's information to the government.
"So now new DACA recipients — the ones that were hesitating — now they want to do it," Barron said. "This morning I had a call from one of them — five year's I've been after him to apply and apply and didn't apply because he was in fear."
David Ashenhurst, who convenes monthly ACLU meetings in Oberlin, looked at the ruling with reservations. He said it only protects DACA as long as there is no second Trump term.
The court’s decision was “a rebuke to Trump and the way he operates,” Ashenhurst said. "They didn't say he can't end DACA, they just said he can't end it because he wants to. He has to give a reason… It's not on its face any significant decision. It's more of a postponement."
He expects the future of DACA to be a significant campaign issue in Senate races as well.
Parris Smith, CEO of the Lorain County Urban League, said while she and the organization celebrated the win in the courts, she too said it could all go away after November.
“We recognize we have to celebrate the small wins,” she said. “If you don’t celebrate at the small level, it gets overwhelming. So, we celebrate today and we’re grateful. But we’re also doing that silent work behind the scenes to make sure this stays.”
For Mendez, the ruling is a step toward a permanent solution. At the state and federal levels, DACA recipients weren't excluded from coronavirus programs and legislators have reached compromises on other bills in recent months, making it feel like it's now or never.
"I'm hoping that one day we can pass a permanent solution and say we're not second-class citizens and say 'Hey, it was not our fault that we're here and here's your Green Card or here's your citizenship' and we can live a normal life, basically," he said. "That's my take from it — we live to fight another day.''
Barron would agree.
The goal is a path to citizenship, and it will take work to get there — from those in the immigrant community, and their natural-born-citizen neighbors — to call on federal legislators to pass immigration reform.
"The majority of the immigrant community are here to work, are here to better their lives and what you can do as my neighbor, is just support me. Get involved in the community, call your senator, call your congressman, call your congresswoman ... and just make sure that our voices are heard."
DACA recipients or family members in Northeast Ohio can bring questions to the Legal Aid Society by calling (440) 324-1121 for Elyria or (216) 687-1900. The Spanish line is (216) 586-3190.