Julissa Arce is the author of the upcoming young adult adaptation of her memoir, “Someone Like Me." She is a writer, speaker and social justice advocate, and the co-founder and chairman of the Ascend Educational Fund, a college scholarship and mentorship program for immigrant students.
While Trump voters demand that undocumented immigrants “do it the right way,” and get in the “back of the line” to become American citizens, the GOP-led Congress has failed to act to give dreamers a permanent solution towards citizenship. Several unsuccessful attempts have been made to pass legislation that would create a “line” for Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children through no choice of their own. Instead, Dreamers have watched their lives play out in a maze of court decisions since the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, program was terminated by President Trump on September 5, 2017. Today, Judge Andrew Hanen, a well-known anti-immigrant extremist, heard arguments from ten states to decide if DACA was unconstitutional. He did not rule, and now Dreamers have another court date to keep them up at night.
I am not very different from the DACA recipients who may find themselves at risk of deportation if the judges issue unfavorable rulings in the various lawsuits making their way through the courts. I came to the U.S when I was 11 years old from Mexico to be reunited with my parents and after my tourist visa expired in 1998, I became undocumented. I didn’t have a choice in the matter, but I thank my parents for making the decision to bring me to America. As DACA recipients nervously wait for one more court decision to potentially decide their future, I am celebrating the 4th year anniversary of my naturalization ceremony. But I am not more deserving than any of them to be an American citizen.
For more than a decade I watched as my life was decided my Washington politicians. My hopes were high the first time the DREAM Act was introduced in 2001, seventeen years ago. If passed, the bill would have given me, and hundreds of thousands more, a path to citizenship. But the bill failed. It failed again in various forms in 2003, 2007, 2010, and 2011. I wasn’t undocumented for more than a decade because I refused to get in the line, I remained undocumented because each time the bill was unsuccessful, it failed to create a line for people like me.
In the same way, Dreamers, those who have DACA, those who were not eligible for the program, or aged in after the termination of the program, remain undocumented because we have failed them. President Trump failed them when he ended a program that was widely successful, giving more than 800,000 people the opportunity to thrive in America. Congress has failed dreamers each time they have let politics get in the way of common sense immigration reform. And the courts may fail dreamers if Judge Hanen let’s his personal views ultimately dictate his ruling. In a report, America’s Voice said Judge Hanen “has a history of opining well beyond the scope of his jurisdiction [with] an anti-immigration bent.”
The Trump administration terminated DACA because they believed a court would likely find the program unconstitutional. Several lawsuits were filed against the administration because advocates believe the government ended the program unlawfully. Thanks to those court challenges, two nationwide injunctions were issued which made it possible for previous DACA recipients to renew their status. More than 100,000 renewals have been processed since January 2018. However, the injunctions did not provide relief for first-time DACA applicants and threats to the program remained.
One of those threats was a lawsuit filed by Texas and six other states that challenge the constitutionality of the DACA program. Judge Hanen heard a motion for a preliminary injunction and decided not to rule on the constitutionality of the program at this time, and only determine if the program should be ended immediately. His decision could stand in conflict with the two nationwide injunctions in New York, and California. As the National Immigration Law Center explains, “many different scenarios and timeframes are possible, depending on the different court’s timing and rulings.” One possible scenario is that the clashing injunctions could lead to the program’s fate to be decided by the Supreme Court.
The only difference between the Dreamers who continue to wait for their fate to unfold in the various courts and me is that I became eligible to apply for citizenship after I fell in love and married my U.S. Citizen boyfriend in 2008. None of my academic or professional accomplishments made me eligible to apply, and even after my marriage it was not guaranteed that I would be granted citizenship. I am lucky, because on August 8, 2014 I walked into a court in lower Manhattan and swore before God that I was American Citizen.
If we want immigrants to do it the right way and get in the line, then we need continue to fight for a permanent solution so the line can be created. We need to remind congress that the only way Dreamers can have a future that does not depend on a judge’s decision is for them to create a path to citizenship. We cannot stop fighting until every Dreamer can walk into a federal court and face a judge who will lead them in the Oath of Allegiance.
The Day I became a U.S Citizen.
Photo: Morrigan McCarthy for Elle.com