Park City DACA recipient lauds ‘great win’ but wants congressional action for permanent immigration reform
When Enrique Sanchez was on the flight back to Salt Lake City from a high school trip to France in 2015, he started getting nervous.
It’s not that he was trying to sneak a bottle of red wine illicitly into the country – he wasn’t. It’s that when the plane landed, he’d be separated from his classmates and border agents would decide whether to let him back into the country to rejoin his family in Park City.
Sanchez, 22, was, and is, under the protection of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, an Obama-era initiative that allows children brought to the U.S. at a young age to avoid deportation if they meet criteria like avoiding legal trouble and going to college, having a job or enlisting in the military.
About 700,000 people had DACA protection as of 2018, according to a review published by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The Trump administration has been attempting to strike down the program, but has been repeatedly rebuffed by the courts, including in a decision handed down last week by the U.S. Supreme Court.
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That legal victory removed, albeit temporarily, the threat to DACA’s existence. But the president has vowed to resume the fight, and Sanchez said that, while the Supreme Court decision was a huge win for people protected by the program, it underscores the importance of congressional action on immigration.
“Celebrate today, fight again tomorrow,” he said. “…What the fight entails now is we want a pathway to citizenship. DACA has always been just a temporary solution to a much bigger issue.”
Sanchez is a community specialist for the Park City government and works for the Park City Police Department, but made clear he was not representing either while speaking about issues surrounding DACA.
Looking back to that plane ride, Sanchez said it actually provides a source of relief. Once he was allowed back into the country after a two-hour grilling by border agents, Sanchez could then rightfully say the last time he entered the country, he did so legally.
Before that, the last time he entered the country, he was brought as a two-year-old across the Arizona border.
That started a reluctance to engage with systems of authority, a reluctance shared by many in immigrant communities who fear the threat of deportation, he said.
“Before (DACA), you didn’t really want to put your name on anything because in your mind, OK, if I put my name on something, they’ll have something to track me with,” he explained. “… What DACA has done, allows us to legally work, take some risks, applying for college, applying for jobs we wouldn’t be applying for, applying for loans and things like that.”
That fear of official systems can make immigrant communities vulnerable to exploitation and crime, Sanchez said, as immigrants may be hesitant to seek help from local law enforcement agencies. He said crimes like domestic violence and sexual assault sometimes go unreported for fear of consequences like deportation.
Sanchez said he was inspired early on by members of the Park City Police Department with whom he forged a relationship as a child. He considers local policing entirely distinct from federal agencies like the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Moe Hickey is the CEO of Voices for Utah Children. He’s worked to administer a scholarship fund for youngsters seeking DACA renewal, helping about 200 people renew their applications with the support of significant philanthropic contributions.
He said he was shocked and overjoyed by the Supreme Court ruling, and that he’d been preparing for it to go the other way.
“It was a very welcome ruling. I can’t overestimate what it meant for the community, both locally here in Park City and for the DACA community, because a lot of it was the uncertainty. … It gives them back their life, quite honestly,” Hickey said. “Two weeks ago, a week, you had young adults not sure if they’d be deported by the end of June, be able to go back to college in the fall, continue serving in the military, all of those things could have happened.”
DACA functions as a two-year reprieve from deportation and allows recipients to work and apply for a temporary Social Security Number. It allowed Sanchez access to several teenage rights of passage, like his first job at a grocery store and a driver’s license. Recipients have to reapply every two years, but processing the application can take months, so Sanchez would generally start the process months before the deadline. He said receiving a renewal gives about an 18-month reprieve before the tedious paperwork and $495 application fee are due.
He recalled hiring a paralegal the first time he filled out the paperwork, something he said is common because of the consequences of a misstep. The paralegal charged $500, making the entire pricetag around $1,000.
Sanchez said he subsequently learned he could do the paperwork himself.
Last week’s legal ruling focused on the process by which the Department of Homeland Security ended the program, not whether it had the right to do so.
There likely isn’t enough time before President Trump or his successor is inaugurated in January for the Trump administration to succeed with another legal challenge, but Hickey echoed Sanchez’ contention that it is now up to Congress to legislate immigration policy rather than leaving it to executive orders that can be upended by presidential administrations.
Hickey suggested the DACA program’s widespread support could provide a good starting point for bipartisan legislation. A recent Politico/Morning Consult poll, for instance, found the majority of Americans, including 68% of Republicans, support DACA recipients, commonly referred to as Dreamers.
“We’re not putting 14 million people on planes, trains and automobiles and getting them out of the country,” Hickey said.
Sanchez said he awoke the morning the Supreme Court decision was announced to five missed calls from his mother, telling him to check the news.
“I had tears in my eyes the entire morning, it felt very surreal,” he recalled. “Like I said, it’s a great win for us (but it’s) just a temporary solution. It’s not going to fix the issue, it’s just going to continue with the courts.”
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