COLUMBIA—Griselda Cervantes will remember June 18 for a long time. That is the day she joined hundreds of thousands of other young adults around the country in learning that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled against ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.
DACA, started in 2012, offers protections for undocumented immigrants under 36 who do not have serious criminal records. It saves them from deportation and allows them to obtain work permits.
The Supreme Court’s ruling blocked a 2017 executive order from President Donald Trump that called for an end to the program initiated by President Barack Obama.
Cervantes is one of about 700,000 young people nationwide, described as Dreamers, who qualify for the program.
“There aren’t enough words to express how I felt,” Cervantes said. “I cried for an hour because for the past three years we (Dreamers) had been living in fear, anxiety and uncertainty not knowing what our futures will look like.”
Cervantes came to the U.S. with her family when she was a small child and grew up in Allendale. Because she was undocumented, she initially held a dead-end job at a restaurant and had little hope for the future. After becoming a DACA recipient, she was able to get her driver’s license and then moved to Columbia to find a better-paying job with benefits. She is a member of Our Lady of the Hills Church.
The high court’s ruling provides some temporary relief but still leaves Dreamers in a sort of limbo as they wonder if other challenges will come in the future, said Estela Landaverde, Hispanic youth ministry coordinator for the Diocese of Charleston.
Landaverde knows many DACA recipients and has organized prayer vigils around the state on their behalf. She said the best thing that could happen for the current crop of Dreamers and others like them is for the U.S. Senate to support proposed legislation known as the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for them.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, whose parents emigrated to the United States from Italy, also stressed the importance of immigration reform.
He said the Supreme Court decision is helpful because it provides some temporary relief for DACA recipients, but noted it is not permanent and the program could face more challenges in the future.
“This is not going to solve the problem because the DACA recipients are still in a state of limbo,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “What we need is comprehensive immigration reform that will provide a permanent solution.”
Cervantes said she is relieved for now but understands the tenuous nature of the Supreme Court ruling and that more efforts to repeal DACA could come at any time.
The real need, she said, is for concrete immigration reform that would provide a permanent solution for people like her.
“Until change happens from our leaders, our lives will continue to be in fear of deportation, fear of losing our jobs and returning to a country that many of us don’t know anything about,” Cervantes said.
Catholics can help make immigration reform a reality. The South Carolina Catholic Conference encourages everyone to ask their U.S. senators to co-sponsor and support S. 874, the DREAM Act, which would protect Dreamers and provide a path for them to obtain U.S. citizenship.
To sign up for action alerts on the topic, visit the diocesan webpage at charlestondiocese.org and look under offices. The South Carolina Catholic Conference is an affiliate organization that promotes faith in public policy.