Roughly 16,000 immigrants in Washington state who benefit from a federal program allowing them to legally live and work in the U.S. shouldn’t be disheartened yet, despite a Texas court ruling Friday ordering an end to the program, said a prominent Seattle immigrant advocate.
Jorge Barón, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, stressed in a video conference that U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen put his ruling on hold for current beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. Under the program, launched by President Barack Obama, immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children can receive renewable two-year work permits.
“You can continue renewing,” Barón said. “Don’t be worried about the headlines that you’re seeing now that say the program is blocked.”
For now, the ruling affects only new DACA applicants. There are 81,000 people nationwide whose first-time DACA applications are pending, according to CBS News. In an interview, Barón said he does not know how many live in Washington but estimates probably about 2,000.
There has been a rush of new applicants since December, when a New York court ordered the Trump administration to start accepting new DACA applications. Months earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the administration from ending the program, but there was doubt as to what that meant for new applications, Barón said.
There was also ongoing doubt about DACA’s validity, since the Supreme Court held just that the Trump administration did not give a reasoned explanation for ending the program, not that it couldn’t do so. Friday’s ruling addressed the bigger question.
President Joe Biden supports DACA but his administration has been slow to process applications, leading to a backlog. One person viewing Barón’s video conference said she had been waiting since January for her application to be approved. If not approved by Friday, that person is out of luck for now, said Barón.
Zawadi Chege, a 21-year-old who came to the U.S. from Kenya as a 1-year-old, said she had planned to submit an application shortly. The recent Tacoma Community College graduate said she had been denied under the Trump administration because she didn’t have documentation proving she had lived in the U.S. continuously for many years. She had since gathered documentation and was about to write a check for the $495 application fee.
“This is my chance to finally get DACA,” she said she had thought. She called Hanen’s decision “cruel,” but said she had not given up hope Congress would act to help DACA recipients. “I think we’re in a better position now than we were during the Trump administration, but I think this also shows the gaps that we still have,” she said.
Barón expects appeals but said he also “hopes this is what will finally trigger Congress to act.” The Texas ruling, he acknowledged, “still creates this huge risk going forward.”
Alejandra Pérez, 26, a DACA recipient from South King County, said she was having trouble keeping up with all the legal developments and was not watching out for a ruling from Texas. When she saw the news Friday she was a little relieved current DACA recipients are not affected.
But, she said, “It doesn’t mean we won’t be affected in the future. … Now, once again, people will have to wait and see what’s going to happen.”