Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, immigration, News

North Carolina dreamers heartened for their futures after Supreme Court ruling

Jocelyn Casanova

T he day before Jocelyn Casanova graduated high school, her mother told her she was an undocumented immigrant. She had crossed the desert with her when Casanova was just 4 years old in the hopes of finding a better life and of giving her daughter more opportunity.

“It was just kind of like ripping a Band-aid off,” said Casanova, 24, of finding out.

She wasn’t mad at her mother, but learning about her past meant her future was in jeopardy. She had already applied to colleges and wanted to pursue a career in law, but had to put those plans on hold because of her immigration status.

When the Obama administration created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects undocumented people from deportation who were brought into the country as children, she became a recipient, but there were still a lot of obstacles to her pursuing her goals.

She had to pay out of state tuition to go to a community college in North Carolina, where she grew up, and she couldn’t apply for federal aid. She worked three jobs to pay for school, and still, it wasn’t always enough.

“I’ve had to get really creative as far as bettering myself,” she said in a phone interview Thursday.

That includes putting aside dreams of becoming an immigration attorney in order to learn new skills and soak up all the opportunities she is afforded, in part because of DACA. Most recently, she was able to get an engineering degree through a company sponsorship and she works now as a software engineer in Raleigh. She continues to take classes at Wake Tech.

When the Trump administration rescinded the DACA program in 2017, it instilled a sense of fear in Casanova. She lived in the U.S. almost her entire life, but could suddenly be deported to a land mostly strange to her. She thought she was dreaming Thursday when she woke up to the news that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the administration’s decision to end the program was against the law.

“I had to do a double take; is this really happening?” she said. “I shed a couple tears because it was like a weight lifted off my shoulders.”

She said the decision is a victory, but immigrants and DACA recipients, also called dreamers, should not stop fighting for their future.

“We still need a permanent solution for our dreamers who are constantly trying to pursue the American Dream,” Casanova said. “It felt amazing to not be in limbo after walking down this path and not knowing where you would end up. Happiness is an understatement, especially during this uncertain time where we have a pandemic still going on, and our Black Lives Matter brothers are voicing their concerns with the justice system. Change is happening, and we should still continue to have these conversations as well as continue to count our blessings.”

Casanova is one of about 24,000 DACA holders who live in North Carolina, and among the 700,000 or so recipients nationwide. She said she is grateful to be in the U.S. and wants to continue to go to school, work and contribute to her community.

Oscar Romero is pictured left at a U.S. Supreme Court rally in the fall.

“Honestly all dreamers want, we’re hugging this country and we just want this country to hug us back,” she said. “Hearing this news was like getting a pat on the back. I definitely have a lot of hope and faith for the future. I know that we still have a long road to go down, but I’m very hopeful we’re going to see change.”

DACA is a temporary fix for recipients of the program, who don’t otherwise have a permanent path to U.S. citizenship. Last June, the U.S. House passed legislation that would safeguard the program and provide a pathway to citizenship. The bill has not been taken up in the U.S. Senate.

Still, the Supreme Court news from Thursday brought many people comfort this week. Oscar Romero, of Charlotte, said he was in complete shock when he read about the ruling.

“This was a turn of events that I don’t think anyone expected,” he said. “I just broke out into tears, just full joy. … While it doesn’t fix everything for us, it’s definitely a breath of relief for all of us who have been holding our breath this whole time.”I just broke out into tears, just full joy. -Oscar Romero Click To Tweet

The 25-year-old was brought to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 4. The DACA program changed the entire trajectory of his life, he said. Before the program, he couldn’t legally drive and he had to work jobs where he was paid “under the table.”

“It’s completely opened up so many opportunities for me,” he said, adding that he’s since finished college on a scholarship. “This is a great victory regardless of what lies ahead. Like Black Lives Matter, this is a topic that we shouldn’t just put away.”

Many of the dreamers who talked to NC Policy Watch had similar stories of how DACA helped them get to where they are.

Daniel Bello is no longer a DACA recipient — he has a green card now — but it was the program that helped him be able to go to college. Now he’s in his third year of law school at Campbell University.

He was cautiously optimistic Thursday about the high court’s ruling.

“I’m very happy, but I know that they’ll probably try to challenge it again,” he said.

Daniel Bello

Bello, 30, pointed out that DACA recipients undergo background checks and are required to meet certain standards to be eligible for the program. There are also a lot of misconceptions about immigrants.

“DACA recipients consider the U.S. our home, because we’ve been here our whole lives, and we love this country and just want a chance to participate,” he said. “Based on our record and education, we are likely to become a benefit to the economy in a very positive way.”

Carla Mena, also 30, told her story to Policy Watch on Thursday. She said there was an added pressure on the first generation DACA holders like herself to be successful and to pave the way.

“We are the oldest children of the first-generation immigrant community, and there’s a lot of responsibility in general when it comes to being the eldest in the line of children,” she said.

They live bicultural and bilingual lives and feel at times as if they don’t belong in one world or the other. Only dreamers can really understand what they go through at times, Mena said. And they fought hard before 2012 to be an active part of their communities.

“We were marching; we were doing hunger strikes; we were occupying officials’ offices,” she said. “I think that the biggest takeaway is we are not just hardworking when it comes to our jobs, we are hardworking for what we believe is right. We believe that we deserve better, that our families deserve better.”We believe that we deserve better, that our families deserve better. -Carla Mena Click To Tweet

The elder DACA holders are teaching the younger dreamers to also fight and to build resiliency. They are taking care of one other. Mena said in a lot of ways, they had an even harder time with the Trump administration’s rescission, because they grew up with the program available to them and then had to cope when it could just be taken away.

Casanova, one of those younger dreamers, said she is thankful her parents made the choice to bring her to the U.S. so she could have a chance at a better future. She encouraged her peers to vote — because DACA holders can’t — and to be a champion for immigrants.

“They are the real dreamers who had the dream of a better life for us, their children,” she said of her parents. “They didn’t want us to suffer like they did. We owe it to them to keep fighting for the American Dream.

“Like my mom always says to me in Spanish with everything I do, ‘Mija, echale ganas,’ meaning ‘Daughter, do your best.’ We must continue to give it our all because the fight is not over yet. We have to be strategic and organized about the upcoming battles.”

COVID-19, immigration, News

Elected officials pledge stimulus checks to help immigrants during pandemic; here’s how you can too

Several elected officials from Raleigh and Durham have pledged to share their federal stimulus checks with immigrants who are cut off from COVID-19 aid.

The pledges to donate money are part of a #ShareYourCheck challenge started by the Latinx grassroots empowerment organization, Siembra NC, to encourage people to contribute part or all of their COVID-19 stimulus checks to its new COVID-19 Immigrant Solidarity Fund.

The federal government is sending a one-time stimulus check to some Americans as part of a $2 trillion COVID-19 response bill known as the CARES Act. Individuals who earn less than $75,000 per year will receive a $1,200 check by the end of 2019, with an additional $500 for each qualifying dependent child under 17. Married couples under the threshold will receive $2,400.

At least 157 North Carolinians have already pledged to share their checks with the fund. The elected officials who have taken the pledge include Durham Mayor Steve Schewel, along with Durham City Council members Mark-Anthony Middleton, Charlie Reece, Jillian Johnson and Javiera Caballero, Durham County Commission Chair Wendy Jacobs and Durham County Commissioner Heidi Carter, as well as Raleigh City Council members Saige Martin and Nicole Stewart.

“Moments like this define who will rise and who is left behind,” Martin stated in a Monday news release. “As Federal programs struggle to reach those that qualify, it’s clear to me that we must give back to those who are the backbone of this country, yet, too often do not qualify for aid. I call on my fellow residents with any capacity to join me in donating their stimulus check or any amount to the Siembra Solidarity Fund. Let’s ensure we all rise together.”

The New American Economy research group estimates there are over 317,100 undocumented immigrants living in North Carolina who paid more than $639 million in federal, state and local taxes in 2018. Yet, even U.S. citizens married to undocumented immigrants who file jointly with their spouses are ineligible for stimulus checks.

As part of its COVID relief effort, Siembra NC is standing up for families in Stewart Detention Center in Georgia — the closest Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility — and they converted their 24-hour detention hotline to a COVID relief referral service. The group is also providing Spanish-language information to workers, business owners and others on how to stay safe, access testing and aid and defend their rights as rent comes due and managers force them to work without proper safety measures.

The organization kicked off its fundraiser Saturday with a “Sábado Gigante” Facebook Live telethon hosted by younger immigrant members of Siembra NC who also pledged their stimulus checks. Over the course of 12 hours, 219 donors gave more than $13,000, surpassing the initial $5,000 goal.

Still, the group is encouraging more donations for those residents who are able to contribute.

“These funds are a critical lifeline for North Carolina taxpayers who work in restaurants, hotels or as domestic workers and have lost most or all of their income, and have been blocked from receiving state or federal aid,” said Siembra spokesperson Andrew Willis Garcés. “Beating this pandemic requires all of us to work together to fill gaps in our social safety net, and this effort to create a ‘people’s stimulus’ is one way to step in where government programs are falling short.”

The live broadcast from Saturday’s fundraiser can still be viewed in four parts, and included a cooking demonstration from James Beard-nominated Raleigh chef Oscar Diaz, and performances by Durham rocker Cristy Road Carrera, Raleigh drag queen “Tesoro” and 18 others. It’s already had more than 21,000 views.

The telethon funds already benefited seven Raleigh immigrant women whose husbands were detained by ICE since January. The funds also contributed to the broader solidarity fund, which will provide relief for those undocumented families who are shut out of federal stimulus checks.

“We’re encouraging everyone who can to donate,” said Durham’s Caballero. “There are many ways to help those who are struggling, and this fund is one of them.”

North Carolinians who want to help can both take the pledge to share their stimulus checks and make donations online. All of the funds raised are re-granted to North Carolinians in need.

immigration

Immigrants’ rights groups condemn ICE, legislative efforts to advance anti-immigrant policies

Speaker Tim Moore

On Monday, House Speaker Tim Moore hosted a roundtable discussion with Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf and Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Matt Albence at the North Carolina General Assembly.

The men used the press event to criticize Governor Roy Cooper for his veto of House Bill 370 and a group of sheriffs who have dropped out of the federal 287(g) program.

Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Matt Albence

Following the roundtable, a coalition of immigrants’ rights organizations condemned the continued attempts by legislative leaders and ICE to advance anti-immigrant policies including HB 370.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Campaign for Southern Equality, El Centro Hispano, Comité Acción Popular (CAP), Comité Popular Somos Raleigh, Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas (CIMA), Comunidad Colectiva, Just Futures Law, North Carolina Justice Center, Poder NC Action, El Pueblo, Siembra NC, Southeast Asian Coalition, and other organizations denounced the event. Here’s more from their joint statement:

“These actions in North Carolina come on the heels of DHS policies that seek to separate children from families, deny asylum-seekers the right to apply for protections, and raise fees for immigrants who wish to become citizens,” said Angeline Echeverría, Executive Director for El Pueblo. “Today’s publicity stunt is only the latest in a campaign to demonize and violate the human rights of immigrants.”

“Legislators are making a blatant attempt to further criminalize immigrants and assist in maintaining Trump’s deportation force that’s separating families in our state,” Eliazar Posada, Community Engagement & Advocacy Department Director for El Centro Hispano.

“ICE should not be getting involved in local politics, and we urge state lawmakers to sustain the governor’s veto of House Bill 370,” said Alissa Ellis, the Regional Immigrants’ Rights Strategist for the ACLU of North Carolina. “North Carolinians chose to end collaboration with ICE, and today’s press conference demonstrates how far ICE is willing to go to usurp the will of voters.”

Study after study shows that local law enforcement cooperation with ICE does not make communities safer. Last year, voters in North Carolina’s two largest counties – Mecklenburg and Wake – elected sheriffs who campaigned on promises, now fulfilled, to end their county’s involvement in the federal 287(g) program, a partnership with federal immigration officers that has led to the deportation of thousands from North Carolina. Sheriffs in Buncombe, Forsyth, Guilford, and Durham counties have also announced that they will no longer hold people in jail on ICE detainer requests.

immigration, News

Is DACA doomed? Supreme Court may side with Trump

Activists gathered outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday – Photo: Robin Bravender

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court appears unlikely to salvage an Obama-era program that has allowed hundreds of thousands of young, unauthorized immigrants known as “Dreamers” to remain in the country without immediate fear of deportation.

Lawyers defending the program — known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — argued Tuesday that the Trump administration broke the law when it rescinded the program in 2017. Hundreds of protestors echoed the sentiment Tuesday, chanting “Home is here!” and other pro-immigrant messages on the streets in front of the high court.

But the court’s conservatives seemed to disagree. During extended arguments in three consolidated cases, they seemed to endorse the legality of the administration’s decision to end the program and suggested that the question doesn’t even merit judicial scrutiny.

“I assume that was a very considered decision,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s most recent appointment to the bench, said of the decision to end it. “Now we can agree with it or disagree with the merits of it … but “what is the shortfall?”

Even if the decision were illegal, the judicial branch couldn’t necessarily fix it, Chief Justice John Roberts said. “It’s not always the case when the government acts illegally in a way that affects other people that we go back and untangle all of the consequences of that.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first appointee to the high court, struggled with the issue of “reviewability.”

“I hear a lot of facts, sympathetic facts … and they speak to all of us,” he said. “But what’s the limiting principal?”

Temporary protections

Photo: Robin Bravender

The DACA program was created in 2012 to allow certain immigrants who arrived to the United States before age 16 to apply for temporary protection from deportation and work permits. There were roughly 661,000 active participants in the program as of June 30.

Trump vowed on the campaign trail to “end” what he has characterized as an illegal program. His administration made good on his promise in 2017, but lower courts blocked the decision from taking effect.

In June, the U.S. House passed legislation that would safeguard the program and provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. But the bill is languishing in the GOP-controlled Senate, which is unlikely to act on it any time soon.

“We hope and pray that the courts will do the right thing,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a news conference after the arguments. She pointed to the bill passed by the House more than 160 days ago, which she pledged to drop off at the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

On Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted that President Barack Obama had “no legal right” to create the program but said he would make a deal with Democrats to allow DACA recipients to stay if the program is overturned.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused Trump on Tuesday of playing politics with the Dreamers who rely on the program. “The president’s relentless scapegoating of immigrants is the most un-American thing I can think of,” Schumer said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the court’s more liberal jurists, took issue with the administration’s attacks on the program during the arguments Tuesday. She called it legal and said she supports its efforts to defer deportation of Dreamers — more than 90 percent of whom are employed and nearly half of whom are in school, according to a 2017 survey.

Photo: Robin Bravender

Such law-abiding immigrants and their families rely on the program, she said. Trump, meanwhile, has said he would protect DACA recipients but he hasn’t — an as-yet empty promise that she said must be considered when ruling on the case. “This is about our choice to destroy lives.”

But Gorsuch and others suggested that the administration has adequately considered such “reliance interests.”

A ruling in favor of the Trump administration would not necessarily result in the immediate deportation of these so-called Dreamers, according to Steven Schwinn, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. But it would threaten their ability to live in the United States and would deprive them of legal authorization to work and to access certain social benefits.

The ruling — expected next spring or summer — will also likely inflame partisan divisions over immigration and could influence the outcome of the 2020 presidential contest. A majority of the public backs the DACA program, polls show, though support is stronger among Democrats and Independents than Republicans.

Allison Stevens is a reporter for the States Newsroom Network of which NC Policy Watch is a member.

immigration

Editorial: As Supreme Court takes up DACA, a chance for Congress to regain some respect

Today the United States Supreme Court will hear a highly anticipated case that could determine the fate for thousands of DACA recipients. The Trump admistration is challenging a lower court ruling that blocked the administration from ending the Deferred Action for Chilhood Arrivals (DACA) program that was created by the Obama adminstration in 2012.

As more than 700,000 young immigrants nervously watch this case, the editorial board for The Washington Post explains that it is well past time for Congress to solve this issue once and for all for the Dreamers and their families:

As the Supreme Court hears legal arguments Tuesday on the Obama-era policy that provided a reprieve from removal and gave job permits to hundreds of thousands of young unauthorized immigrants, and on the Trump administration’s 2017 attempt to rescind that policy, it’s worth remembering some history. Specifically, that members of Congress of both parties have been trying, and failing, to codify those very protections for so-called dreamers since nearly the turn of the century.

It was August 2001 when then-Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican, and Sen. Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, introduced the Dream Act, outlining a pathway to legal permanent residency for migrants who entered the United States as minors, usually with their parents. Since then, repeated iterations of that measure have become enmeshed in the broader partisan impasse over immigration, even as lawmakers, including many Republicans, voiced ritual sympathy for dreamers.

An attempt to break the logjam last year, with a compromise pairing a long-term fix for the dreamers with funding for border security, including President Trump’s wall, fizzled in the Senate when he threatened a veto. Now that the president is building portions of the wall anyway, by diverting funds appropriated by Congress for the military, what possible justification can lawmakers find to avoid doing the moral and humane thing by guaranteeing a normal life for dreamers?

Perversely, it is imaginable that Congress, and perhaps even Mr. Trump, could be jarred into acting on the dreamers’ behalf by a Supreme Court ruling that removed their protections and job security. Mass layoffs and waves of deportations, along with the financial distress those would trigger, could create the sort of crisis that focuses minds in Washington when all else fails. And the fiscal and economic impact of layoffs affecting hundreds of thousands of employees, and others still in college, would be consequential. A 2017 CATO Institute study found that deporting 750,000 young people protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would sap the U.S. economy by $280 billion over a decade, and the federal tax coffers by an additional $60 billion.

But Congress could regain some respect by doing the right, the obviously right, thing before the court rules.

Read the full editorial in Tuesday’s Washington Post.