Life in Legal Limbo: A Dreamer Reflects on the Supreme Court Ruling

Life in Legal Limbo: A Dreamer Reflects on the Supreme Court Ruling (Photo: Melany Love Rochester/The Eagle)

It’s been a stressful few years for "Dreamers." They are the young adults protected from deportation through DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. President Trump announced in 2017 he would end the program, and that decision has been debated in the courts since then. Today, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the program.

Juan Mireles-Palomar was a teen when he applied for DACA. The program was under threat only a couple months after he gained legal status. He's been in limbo ever since.

As someone with DACA, this news is more than just a Supreme Court decision. It's the difference between security and danger.

It's a big win for now. It means that along with hundreds of thousands of others, I am safe.

Before getting my temporary legal status through DACA, things that were normal for my peers were different for me, and that has always stuck with me.

There were too many barriers for me to succeed.

I remember the day I applied for DACA. It was June of 2016, shortly before my 19th birthday and the presidential election. My mom and I were so excited about my DACA application, she insisted on taking a photo of me at the post office holding the sealed envelope. I was hopeful I’d be approved, but at the same time, I knew the political climate was changing, and that my future was anything but certain.

I grew up always aware of my immigrant status. My parents would always advise my sisters and me about what to do if one day we came back home from school and they weren't there, or if they never came home from work. My parents ingrained in me teachings on performing well in school, being respectful, and whatever I do, not to get in trouble with the law. The last of those was stressed more than the others. To this day, my mom still tells me, “No te vaya a meter en problemas” — “Don’t get in any problems.”

About a year after applying for DACA, I finally had temporary legal status. I immediately got an “official” job, opened a bank account, got my driver's license and moved out of my mom's house.

Being "legal" made all the difference — I finally felt "normal," like everyone else around me.

Now, with the Supreme Court deciding in favor of the program, I feel relieved knowing that I can still continue to work and help my family financially. Keeping DACA means that those in healthcare can still do the essential work that they're doing in the fight against COVID-19. And ultimately, keeping DACA means that we have some safety here in this country.

However, like other DACA recipients, I feel torn. While the program uplifted me and hundreds of thousands of people like me, it has always been only temporary and protected only a small group of immigrants. The country has continued to deport people, including my dad. He was deported under the Obama administration. That's why so many like myself feel conflicted about being a DACA recipient and having this protection, while others in our communities faced the full wrath of DHS and ICE.

We believed that DACA was just one step in the right direction, and change was coming but it never did.

Despite the decision by the Supreme Court, one thing still stands true: DACA cannot last forever and Dreamers and our families certainly aren't going anywhere. What we need is bigger than just temporary relief for just a small sliver of our community. There are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants nationwide. What we need and demand is permanent status for everyone and the abolition of ICE. Without these changes, immigrants will continue to be prosecuted for simply seeking a better life. None of us wins if some of us lose.

Juan Mireles-Palomar is part of a collaboration between YR Media and WNYC’s Radio Rookies called 18-to-29 Now: Young America Speaks Up. It’s an election project that brings together young adults (18-to-29) from around the country to document their lives and what’s at stake for them in 2020. More stories and a project website launch will be coming later this summer.

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