‘We deserve better’: Georgia DACA recipients dismayed after judge halts program

Current ‘Dreamers’ are protected, but ruling stops new enrollments in Obama-era program

Yehimi Cambrón was scrolling through Instagram when she saw the news — a federal judge in Texas ruled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is illegal.

Her first thought: Here we go again.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” Cambrón, 29 said. “We’re exhausted and we deserve better. We know this program was not meant to be a permanent solution, this is something like a Band-Aid for something that needs surgery.”

The federal ruling, which came down Friday afternoon, effectively stops new enrollment into the Obama administration’s program, but allows the more than 636,000 immigrants, nicknamed “Dreamers,” enrolled in it to maintain their status. DACA blocks recipients, who were brought into the country illegally as children, from deportation and grants renewable two-year work permits for those who met a strict set of criteria, which includes graduating or attending high school and having no felony convictions.

More than 20,000 DACA recipients live in Georgia.

Atlanta immigration lawyer Charles Kuck called the ruling a “terrible decision that seeks not to hold a prior administration accountable, because the decision is legally wrong, but rather to intentionally harm hundreds of thousands of taxpaying, lawfully present immigrants from 15-39 who only know America as their home.”

“Texas should hang its head in shame today,” Kuck said via email.

Texas and eight other conservative states successfully sued to halt the DACA program arguing that Obama never had the authority in 2012 to create the program because it circumvented Congress. The states also argued that the program drains their educational and healthcare resources. Georgia was not one of the states included in the lawsuit but does require DACA recipients to pay more expensive out-of-state tuition at its colleges and universities.

Cambrón came to the United States from Mexico at 7 years old. She went on to become a teacher working for Teach for America, and even worked at her alma mater, Cross Keys High School in Dekalb County as an art teacher.

But the uncertainty of DACA was one of the factors, she said, that drove her away from teaching and into her current job as an activist and artist and public speaker.

Her worries now are with other immigrants living with uncertainty.

“I know people who were going to apply for the first time for DACA and now that’s not an option because of this ruling,” Cambrón said. “It’s exhausting and painful to keep bearing these attacks on our community and it’s another effort to put us in uncertainty and destabilizing our community.”

For Jaime Rangel, who was brought to the U.S. at 6 months old by his parents via Hidalgo, Mexico, the ruling hit him on a personal and professional level.

Rangel works for the organization FWD.US, a bipartisan political organization of political campaigners, as the Georgia state immigration manager. He said his mind is with the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients who worked as essential workers during the pandemic, and with those who had not yet enrolled in the program. His hope is that the U.S. Senate passes the American Dream and Promise Act, which would create a pathway to citizenship for program recipients.

“We’re going to wake up tomorrow morning ready to fight. Ready to pressure Congress because we knew from the get-go that DACA was just not a permanent solution,” said Rangel, 30. “We’re grateful for DACA but at the end of the day Congress needs to pass legislation.”

Paradise Afshar is a Report for America corps member covering metro Atlanta’s immigrant communities.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.