PHOENIX – The U.S. Supreme Court has kept alive, for now, the Obama-era program that allows immigrants brought here as children to work and protects them from deportation. The high court on Thursday ruled that the Trump administration attempted to end the program improperly when it announced it was rescinding it in 2017. Since then, only people who were already enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program have been able to stay on board, and no new applicants have been accepted. About 650,000 people have DACA protections. Here are six from around the country.
Lives: Washington, D.C.
Country of origin: Trinidad and Tobago
Joella Roberts was 4 when she came to the U.S. with her mom and brother in 2001. Her grandmother, who was already living in the states, petitioned to bring them as well, but their applications were delayed and they made the trip anyway. Eventually, Roberts was in the country without permission. She and her family were debating whether she should go back to Trinidad and Tobago and start fresh. An attorney told her about DACA around 2015, and she’s had the protection since. “I have like an artificial citizenship,” Roberts said. Having DACA allowed her to help her family, as she is the sole provider. She was able to finance a car and have credit.
Like many other DACA recipients, she is politically savvy and determined to use her skills to advocate for others like her. Roberts just graduated from college and is working as a university program coordinator for FWD.us, a bipartisan group that advocates for criminal justice and immigration reform.
Roberts said she couldn’t fall asleep until 4 a.m. Thursday because of anxiety about the pending high court ruling. She jumped out of bed when she heard the news.
“I was like, finally, the Supreme Court is on the right side of justice and history and it’s been a really long, torturous couple of months,” Roberts said. She said that while she’s happy with the decision, there are still other things to fight for, like justice for black Americans— including black immigrants— killed by police.
Lives: Saratoga Springs, Utah
Country of origin: Ecuador
Edison Suasnavas would not be able to analyze cancer cells for a living without DACA. He has advanced biology degrees, but until getting protections had worked a low-wage job at a hotel. Now, he’s a molecular oncology specialist in a medical lab in Salt Lake City, and he’s volunteered to help with coronavirus test diagnosing, although he hasn’t been selected yet. Suasnavas is married, has two young children, and owns a home and two cars. He was 12 when he came to the U.S. from Ecuador after an economic crisis there. He moved with his family to Logan, Utah, and was considering moving to Mexico, where his wife is from, before he got DACA protections.
His wife woke him up Thursday to deliver the good news.
“I don’t want to sound cocky but right now especially with what’s going on, working in a medical lab, it showed that we are essential to keep contributing to the country," Suasnavas said.
Lives: Chicago area
Country of Origin: Pakistan
Growing up in the state of Georgia, Sumbul Siddiqui remembers struggling to find and pay for medical care for her parents — Pakistani immigrants who've had visas pending approval for nearly 20 years and didn’t have health insurance. That hardship inspired Sumbul, the eldest of four siblings, to pursue a career in medicine. She’s a second-year medical student at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and wants to focus on public health. “It helps me connect more to underserved communities,” she said. “Understanding the struggle helps me advocate for them more.”
Born in Saudi Arabia and brought to the U.S. at 4, Siddiqui has relied on DACA since 2013 to go to school. But she often worries about being separated from her parents and three siblings. One has DACA and two are native-born U.S. citizens.
She’s been to Pakistan once. She met her relatives for the first time, but felt like an outsider, speaking Urdu with an accent. “I learned how American I am,” she said.
After learning about the Supreme Court ruling, Siddiqui began crying, saying she can now plan to finish her medical training.
“I’ve had so much anxiety and it feels like something has lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “We are finally feeling some relief.”
Lives: Gilbert, Arizona
Country of origin: Argentina
Born in Buenos Aires, Belen Sisa and her family came to the United States as tourists when she was 6 and overstayed their visas. At the time, Argentina was in the midst of an economic recession.
The family settled in Arizona, where Belen grew up in the Phoenix area.
While majoring in political science and history at Arizona State University, she co-founded the organization Undocumented Students for Education Equity. She also became politically active as a DACA recipient, helping organize student marches and protesting deportations of immigrants.
“I would say that the biggest benefit DACA gave me was a sense of empowerment and control over my future,” Sisa said. “The moment DACA was announced it was a catalyst to my involvement in activism and politics that eventually led me to where I am and who I am now. It gave many of us the confidence to fight for more and that is what we are doing now.”
Sisa said she was overjoyed by the high court’s ruling.
“It’s great to know that DACA lives and we can continue our fight,” Sisa said. “It is great to have the anxiety over.”
Country of origin: Mexico
Phoenix political consultant Tony Valdovinos didn’t learn he was born in Colima, Mexico, and brought to the U.S. when he was 2 until he tried to join the Marine Corps at 18. He said the family had immigrated to the U.S. because his father was having problems finding work amid slowing economic growth.
Valdovinos became involved in politics and, after working on a local campaign in 2012, an attorney began helping him and some other young immigrants get together all their documents so they could apply for the DACA program. He later served as a campaign manager for Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego when she first ran for City Council.
A local musical called “Americano!,” which played to sold-out audiences earlier this year, was inspired by Valdovinos’ life.
After the court ruled on Thursday, Valdovinos said he could better focus on the campaign of Yassamin Ansari, a Phoenix City Council candidate.
“It was such a terrible standoff, waiting for a decision for so long without being able to do anything,” Valdovinos said. “Everything we knew could change, so I decided to stay focused on my life and getting our story out to the world. I never wanted to live in fear as an immigrant after our mom brought us here so we wouldn’t starve.”
Country of origin: Mexico
One of Marisol Estrada’s earliest memories is walking the desert to cross the border when she was 5. A majority of DACA recipients are from Mexico. She wasn’t scared at the time, she just did what her parents told her to. But she realizes now it was probably dangerous. Still, Estrada is glad her parents brought her to the U.S., where she is safer and has had greater opportunities.
Estrada was in high school and looking to get her first job when she discovered she didn’t have legal status. She started researching universities in Mexico and was thinking of going back when Obama enacted DACA the summer before her senior year of high school.
Because of the program, Estrada was able to graduate from college with a degree in political science in three years and is about to start law school. She hopes to practice immigration law.
Estrada said she had to read the ruling three times before she grasped what it meant. “I couldn’t make it past the second page because my palms were shaking,” she said.
“It’s a big win but at the end of the day there’s a lot of people that we will need to fight for,” she said, referring to the estimated 11 million people living in the country without permission. “So I’m happy but very cautiously happy.”
Associated Press reporters Anita Snow in Phoenix, Sophia Tareen in Chicago and Kate Brumback in Atlanta contributed to this report.