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'You Feel Free': TN Dreamers on the DACA Victory

Courtesy of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coaltion

Thursday's victory for young immigrants after the Trump administration’s failed Supreme Court challengeof the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program came as a relief to some 7,000 recipients in Tennessee. While it’s a hard-fought and welcome gain for pro-immigration advocates, it may only offer a temporary reprieve. 

Sandra Pita, 37, grew up undocumented in the U.S.— always fearful of being caught. The introduction of the DACA program in 2012 by the Obama Administration changed that. 

“There’s no words to express how as a human being, you feel free,” she says, adding that she had persistent tension in her shoulders until the Supreme Court handed down its ruling.    

DACA grants so-called “dreamers” renewable permits to legally work in the U.S., and in states like Tennessee, obtain a drivers’ license. It allowed Pita to turn her cleaning company into a legitimate operation with a couple of employees. She also enjoys shuttling her six children around to activities without worrying about law enforcement.

But, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision may only be a short-term solution for those like Pita. The judges didn’t rule on the merits of DACA, just that the Trump Administration’s plan to end the program didn’t follow proper procedures. 

Stephanie Teatro, with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, says there are still a lot of unknowns. The president could decide to eliminate the program in another way. Congress could also take action. It’s also unclear if new and eligible applicants will be allowed to sign up in the interim.    

“We’re celebrating a huge amount of relief for DACA recipients today, but we know that the fight continues tomorrow,” Teatro says.  

In the Mid-South, this limbo affects about 1,800 DACA recipients who contribute about $51 million in spending power, according to the Center for American Progress. 

Advocates say they will push at the state level for more permanent protections, not only for DACA recipients, but other immigrants. This includes a campaign to allow undocumented high school graduates to attend public universities and colleges for in-state tuition. 

“No matter what happens at the federal level, the work to keep everybody safe and having equal access to opportunities at the local level will continue,” Teatro says. 

Pita isn’t sure what the political landscape will look like when her DACA permit comes up for renewal in about a year, but in the immediate, it only makes sense to celebrate. 

“I just want to enjoy for now the moment of knowing that for today and for now, we’re fine,” she says.