He doesn’t remember the trip from Guanajuato, Mexico, to Chapel Hill because he was only 18 months old.
For nearly 20 years Marco Antonio Cervantes Garcia didn’t have legal status in the United States. Now he attends Durham Technical Community College, hoping to become a civil engineer, and waits tables in Chapel Hill to pay his bills.
Since 2014 Cervantes Garcia, 24, has been one of 689,000 Dreamers, the young immigrants brought to the United States illegally who are currently protected by the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program.
“It seemed like a huge blessing because I was really worried about what I was going to do,” he said.
Cervantes Garcia visited a federal immigration office to renew his DACA status Sept. 4.
That same month, President Donald Trump moved to rescind DACA, giving Congress a March 5 deadline to come up with replacement legislation.
Two federal judges ruled against rescinding DACA and the Supreme Court declined to review the lower courts’ rulings, however, putting the president’s order on hold.
With Congress unlikely to pass a new immigration bill by Monday, the future of Dreamers like Cervantes Garcia is unclear again.
In February, the Senate failed to pass three immigration proposals. The bills – which included a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and others – came with attachments, including funding for a border wall and cutting down chain migration, the process that lets legal permanent residents and U.S. citizens sponsor visas for family members.
“The recent court rulings are likely to push back the original March 5 deadline, giving Congress more time to work on a solution,” Daniel Keylin, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), wrote in an email.
The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, estimates 915 young unauthorized immigrants across the country would have lost their DACA permits each day beginning Tuesday had the deadline held.
To renew or not
North Carolinians for Immigration Reform and Enforcement (NCFIRE), an organization that advocates for stricter immigration measures, based in Wade, N.C., thinks the DACA program should have stayed rescinded.
“The courts’ rulings were incorrect,” the organization wrote in a message to The Herald-Sun. “DACA is an unconstitutionally created end run around our immigration laws, which President Trump is trying to stop. It is unimaginable in America that you can’t end a program that was illegally created in the first place.”
There are 2,300 DACA recipients in the Durham-Chapel Hill area, according to government estimates.
After the first federal court ruling in January, El Centro Hispano held immigration clinics for DACA renewals, where lawyers helped file the paperwork for free, in some cases paying the $495 fee for those who couldn’t afford it.
About 50 people attended the clinics to renew their DACA status, yet some Dreamers remain skeptical.
“Congress hasn’t done anything, so a lot of folks are wondering whether some people should or shouldn’t renew,” said Eliazar Posada, the community engagement and advocacy manager at El Centro Hispano.
Cervantes Garcia didn’t apply for DACA until 2014, two years after former President Barack Obama signed the law by executive action. He didn’t want to provide his information to the government, thinking it could hurt his family in the long run. Now, he feels that fear even more.
“I’m just worried my parents will be attacked and will be sent to jail,” he said. “We’re now prone to that.”
Organizations like El Pueblo, a nonprofit based in Raleigh that advocates for immigrants’ rights, are calling for a policy that permanently protects young immigrants who entered the country illegally.
“It was a big step to let kids have a legal protection, but it was just a Band-Aid fix,” said William Saenz, a spokesman for El Pueblo.
Some of the legislation proposed in February would have prevented DACA recipients who become legal permanent residents and U.S. citizens from sponsoring their parents.
“Anytime parents make bad decisions it affects the children. We have to get back to who created the situation. ” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a nonpartisan think tank that opposes DACA. “The American people want some tangible evidence that we’re doing something to prevent the next wave of parents who want to bring their children here illegally.”
Rubi Franco Quiroz, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, disagrees. She flies to Washington, D.C., every other week to lobby lawmakers to help her and other Dreamers stay.
When she was 6, her family left Reynosa, a border town in the northern part of Tamaulipas, Mexico. After four unsuccessful attempts to apply for an immigrant visa, her parents paid a coyote to help them cross. She’s lived in Chapel Hill since then.
Franco Quiroz obtained a private scholarship and expects to complete her bachelor’s degree this spring. Although she was accepted into the master’s program at the UNC School of Social Work, her family is all she’s concerned about.
“A lot of Dreamers support their families that way,” she said. “That’s why we need permanent legislation because that’s a way for us to support our family.”
Jorge Ramos, a Dreamer who works at El Pueblo, arrived when he was 6. His parents fled Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, where crime and poverty were rampant.
He says Congress’s inaction is a constant “psychological torture.”
“Trying to just sit in class thinking I’m a regular student [is hard], when in the back of my mind all I have are the potential problems that I could have soon,” said Ramos, who attends Wake Technical College. “How can I focus in school, when I will probably won’t be able to attend? My whole life is in jeopardy.”
El Pueblo, El Centro Hispano and the NAACP will hold a rally outside Tillis’ office on Tuesday, the day after the deadline, at 11:30 a.m.
Dreamers will lie on the ground, with clothes over their bodies, while other demonstrators, will throw flowers at them simulating a wake.
“It [symbolizes] not only the death of the their dreams here in this country but also the literal deaths of those who’ve been deported,” said Saenz.
Maria Elena Vizcaino: @vizcainomariae