Federal court ruling thrusts Dreamers into ‘limbo’

Betsaida Chavez Garcia grew up in Ontario. She is now a lawyer with Immigrant Justice Idaho. (Submitted photo)

ONTARIO – The future of thousands of Oregonians brought to the United States as children was thrust into uncertainty earlier this month when a federal judge in Texas ended some provisions of the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. 

The program provides protection from deportation to 9,330 Oregonians, including an unknown number in Malheur County and 1,120 residents of the Boise metro area. 

While the judge’s July 16 decision prevents the federal Citizenship and Immigration Services from processing new DACA applications, the court decided that those who already have DACA status can continue to receive its benefits. Despite this protection for existing DACA recipients, or Dreamers, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum described them as “back in litigal limbo, which is where they’ve been from the get-go, and it’s just so unfair.”

“We really need to have Congress take action, because if DACA ends as a formal program, it (may not) require the federal government to deport anybody, but it still makes the lives of DACA recipients precarious and it’s just not right and not fair after all this time,” she said in an interview last week with the Enterprise.

Betsaida Chavez Garcia, a DACA recipient and immigration attorney who grew up in Ontario, agreed that the precarity of DACA, which the Trump administration fought to cancel beginning in 2017, was a major source of stress. 

“As a DACA recipient, you have to renew your work permit every two years, and it’s hard to think that you can plan more than two years ahead,” she said. “At that time when I was thinking about law school, there was these rumors that DACA might potentially go away and I was really scared…When DACA was rescinded (in 2017), that was a very difficult time for me, going to law school and not knowing if I was going to be able to finish.”

Chavez Garcia came to Ontario from Utah when she was in second grade. Before that, she and her family had lived in Jalisco, Mexico. 

“Job opportunities were very scarce in the town where we were from, and my dad was unable to be with us because he had to find job opportunities elsewhere,” Chavez Garcia explained. “When we came here, we were able to be here as a family, and that was the main motivator.”

As a student in the Ontario School District, Chavez Garcia excelled, forming part of the Science/Math Investigative Learning Experience (SMILE) club, the Destination Imagination Club, the softball team, and the marching band, in which she played trumpet. 

She went on to the College of Idaho, studying environmental studies with a conservation biology focus. 

In June 2012, the Obama administration announced a new program: DACA. Chavez Garcia applied and through DACA, she got work authorization, a driver’s license, and most importantly, the opportunity to travel cross country to accept a yearlong volunteer position with Southern Migrant Legal Services in Nashville, Tennessee. 

That experience would realign her ambitions, helping her realize that she wanted to be an immigration lawyer. 

Now in that role at Immigrant Justice Idaho, a Boise nonprofit, Chavez Garcia said that her personal history as an immigrant was a strength, helping her relate to and take more seriously the problems her clients brought to the table. 

“It really motivates me to do the best job that I can, just knowing and feeling the uncertainty of folks that come to me with their stories,” she said. “I just have some understanding of the immigration system, that’s been an advantage. Who certain agencies are, what it means to get your biometrics done – all of those things are just personal knowledge I came into the job with.”

While Chavez Garcia said that the recent DACA ruling was “disappointing and devastating” and “emotional,” she also emphasized that it was important for current DACA recipients to continue renewing their paperwork. 

“My understanding is that there’s a backlog on applications where it’s taking a while to process, therefore it’s really important for people that can renew to renew their DACA on time,” Chavez Garcia said. 

While “initial DACA applications that have been submitted are on hold, and they’re not going to be processed at this time,” Chavez Garcia said that “people that are eligible to apply for DACA for the first time should speak with a trusted attorney or accredited representative” about whether it still makes sense to apply. The Biden administration plans to appeal the ruling which vacated DACA. 

Immigrants may be eligible to apply for DACA if they were under 31 on June 15, 2012, came to the U.S. before the age of 16, and have continuously resided in the U.S. from June 15, 2007 to the present. 

Additional requirements can be consulted at the following website: https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/consideration-of-deferred-action-for-childhood-arrivals-daca. 

“Dreamers are members of our communities – our friends, loved ones, coworkers and neighbors. It’s up to us in Congress to make sure Dreamers have a clear path to citizenship,” according to a statement from U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley.

While the American Dream and Promise Act passed by the House in March would provide DACA recipients with a path to citizenship, the bill is currently held up in the Senate. Merkley’s office said that he was working to ensure legalization of DACA would “be included in the infrastructure reconciliation package that we expect to pass Congress in September.”

When asked what message she would give to DACA recipients, Rosenblum said, “I would tell them that I hope that they will not give up. We are with them. I, as chief law officer of the state, will do everything in my power to support them and ensure that they have a pathway to citizenship.”

“I would also say that I am really sorry that they are having to deal with this after all these years,” she continued. “It’s not fair, it’s not right, it is about their livelihoods and respect for them as part of our community. We will support them, but we are sorry this is happening.”

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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