For about 800,000 young people in the United States, their future here is hanging in the balance over the next six months while Congress decides their fate.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), an Obama-era executive order that granted temporary legal status to those brought to the U.S. as a child before 2012, was rescinded Tuesday by the Trump administration in an announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The program will end in six months, unless Congress and President Trump enact a law reviving DACA before then.
Often referring to program enrollees as “illegal aliens,” Sessions called the program “unconstitutional.” The “executive amnesty,” as Sessions described DACA, contributed to a “surge” of minors at the southern border.
“To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here,” Sessions said. “It’s just that simple.”
For now, DACA enrollees wait and wonder.
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“It’s just like I’m losing everything little by little.”
There are nearly 120,000 DACA enrollees in Texas — which just saw its largest city battered by record-breaking rain and flooding from Hurricane Harvey.
According to county data from the Migration Policy Institute in 2014, Houston had the second most DACA eligible people in the country, behind only Los Angeles.
Diana Platas, a 19-year-old DACA enrollee in Houston, told ABC News of Harvey’s impact, “We had about 5, 6 feet of water in our home. Everything was lost.”
Since Harvey unleashed its wrath on her home, Platas has spent every day tearing out carpet and trashing clothes. An English speaker since she was two years old, Platas has been key in financially supporting her family. Now she’s not only facing tougher job prospects, but she’s had to tell her family she may have to leave the country.
Over and over, she used the word “devastated” to describe her reaction to the Trump administration’s announcement, “especially in this time when my family needs me the most.”
Maria Trevino Rodriguez, also a DACA enrollee, moved to Houston when she was just a one-year-old. It wasn’t until she was applying to colleges, searching for her Social Security number, that she found out she was undocumented.
She spent last week helping her mother repair leaks in the house, and when that was done, she spent the weekend volunteering at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.
Then the news on DACA came.
“I broke down when I heard what Jeff Sessions said, even though I expected him to say it,” she told ABC News. “It just hit me harder when I heard the words coming out of his mouth … he called me an illegal alien.”
She’ll continue to be an activist, she said, but is convinced that she’ll be targeted for deportation because of her political action.
The fight to stay
Despite Tuesday’s announcement, many DACA enrollees remain hopeful.
They cite statistics — more than 70 percent of Americans support a path to citizenship for those already in the U.S. if certain requirements are met, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey — and protests around the country as inspiration.
Ricardo Aca and Antonio Alarcon, college students and DACA enrollees in New York, have been a part of those protests. They are prepared to fight for DACA and for a life out of the shadows, they said.
Aca, a senior at Baruch College in Manhattan, can’t see a future here without a legal status, but he also doesn’t feel like he should have to.
“I’m very proud of my roots, I’m very proud of being from Mexico. But I’m also a proud New Yorker and this is my home,” Aca said.
In addition to legal status, DACA also provided work permits for the nearly 800,000 enrollees in its jurisdiction.
“I think I’ve built a life for myself here. This is where I went to high school, this is where I’m going to college, this is where my job is, this is where I pay taxes, this is where I contribute,” Aca said.
Alarcon has lived in the U.S. for 13 years. He spoke of the people that will be affected by this decision beyond just the Dreamers, as the DACA enrollees are often called — a reference to the 2001 Dream Act, which failed in Congress.
He feels a responsibility to fight for the spouses, children, parents and communities that depend on the role DACA enrollees have played in their lives, he said.
“We will continue to fight for our communities, for ourselves and for our parents because at the end of the day, they are the original dreamers,” Alarcon said. He’s looking to members of Congress for a solution.
“I think it’s time for it and there’s support,” Alarcon said — not only from the immigrant community but also from the majority of Americans, who believe there should be path to citizenship.
Those “original dreamers” are the reason Luna, a middle school teacher and DACA enrollee who asked to keep her full name private, is also resolved to fight.
“Our parents sacrificed the world to be here, they came to this country for better opportunities which meant leaving everything behind,” she said.
Luna arrived in the U.S. at age 10. College was a family endeavor and her parents took on three jobs to get her through. “We paid for college, cash,” she said. “I didn’t get help from the government.”
She was disappointed in the decision, though not surprised, she said. “We are devastated but we will continue to persevere. We are resilient and this is our home,” she said.
“I am not defined by my immigration status,” Luna said. “I have become a fighter because of it. Because of that I can’t give up now more than ever.”