By MICHELLE L. PRICE, LAS VEGAS (AP):- Immigration advocates in Nevada marked the ninth anniversary Tuesday of the Obama-era program shielding young immigrants from deportation but urged Congress to pass permanent protections.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, allowed people brought illegally into the country as children to legally remain. The program brought thousands of young people without legal status out of the shadows, making it easier for them to apply for college and jobs.
The program’s protections are temporary though and advocates have been pushing Congress to pass a permanent path to legal status, especially with a court challenge to the program looming.
“We’ve been waiting so long for this and some days it’s very, very easy to want to give up,” said Astrid Silva, a Las Vegas immigrant rights activist who runs the nonprofit Dream Big Nevada that connects immigrants with support and legal help.
Silva, who crossed the border from Mexico at age 4 with her parents, has become a public face of the “Dreamers,” a name based on the never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act that would provide similar protections as DACA.
Silva’s organization has helped put on clinics with the nonprofit Immigrant Home Foundation to help young immigrants apply for DACA. Cristhian Barrera with the Immigrant Home Foundation said the organization has helped more than 5,600 people apply for or renew their applications since DACA started in 2012.
Though there is bipartisan support for allowing “Dreamers” to say in the country, opponents say the law rewards people for breaking the law, encourages illegal immigration and hurts American workers.
President Joe Biden has called for Congress to pass the program. The U.S. House recently passed a bill that would give DACA recipients paths to obtain permanent legal status but the legislation has stalled on Capitol Hill as Republicans have worked to redirect the focus on problems at the border.
“It’s long overdue for Congress to act now and stop using Dreamers as a political football,” Las Vegas City Councilwoman Olivia Diaz said as she appeared with Silva on Tuesday.
There are an estimated 13,000 “Dreamers” in Nevada who built their lives in the community and deserve to have a path to citizenship, Diaz said.
“Their future remains on the line and could be upended by a single court decision. They live in constant fear of their families being ripped apart, despite being contributing members of our society,” she said.
Former President Donald Trump sought to end the program, which hundreds of thousands of young immigrants currently benefit from, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the administration’s attempt to end it was unlawful.
A pending federal court case in Texas is challenging whether the program’s creation was legal. If the challenge is successful, it could end protections, adding urgency to those pressing Congress for a more lasting solution.
Silva said that there’s a lot of fear with the decision looming, especially among those who apply for DACA and must share their personal information with the U.S. government. But she urged people to have hope and continue applying for the program because it’s hard to predict how the court ruling will go.
“We’ve lived entire past nine years in and out of courts and so basing our entire lives on court decisions at this point,” she said. “It’s not something we want to keep doing and that’s why we need to have the permanent solution of Congress acting on it.”