On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
In a 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals, more commonly known as DACA. Three years after President Donald Trump announced that his administration would move to terminate the program, the ruling will protect DACA recipients from the threat of deportation.
Produced by Kayla Hewitt
- Claudia Quiñonez Local Organizer, United We Dream
- Paula Fitzgerald Executive Director, Ayuda @Ayuda_DMV
- Paola DACA recipient
KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. In a recent 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court preserved the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, more commonly known as DACA. It gives those brought to this country as undocumented children temporary permission to stay. The majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts calls the Trump Administration's justification for ending the program arbitrary and capricious.
KOJO NNAMDIThe ruling protects hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients nationwide, including approximately 20,000 Dreamers in our region from the threat of deportation. But the court's decision will not protect DACA indefinitely and allows for the possibility that the program could still be terminated by the president. Here with me to discuss the decision and its implications for local DACA recipients is Claudia Quinonez. She is a DACA recipient and local organizer for United We Dream. Claudia, thank you for joining us.
CLAUDIA QUINONEZThank you so much for having me today.
NNAMDIClaudia, you are a DACA recipient, as well as a local activist. What is United We Dream, and what work have you done with this organization?
QUINONEZUnited We Dream is the largest immigrant youth-led network in the United States. It was funded after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act back in 2010. And I'm a community organizer in the DMV. In my role, I organize with high school and college students to bring systemic change to the region. A good example of that is that in 2017, we passed a freedom city ordinance in Gaithersburg. And, currently, we're working in D.C. for the sanctuary valley site which limits the collaboration between ICE and local government and the Department of Corrections.
QUINONEZThe DMV's not the only region where United We Dream currently works. We work in other states like Oklahoma, Texas, California, Florida to also ensure that immigrant communities are being protected, no matter what.
NNAMDIYou were on the steps of the Supreme Court on the day of the decision. Why was it important for you to be actually there, on the scene?
QUINONEZWell, you know, I grew up in Maryland, and I currently live in Maryland. And I know that when the DACA decision came out, it was just as important to me as many other people in the nation. It basically meant that I was going to have some sort of stability for a little longer, and I wanted to be there in community to celebrate that we got a positive ruling. We really didn't know what the decision would be.
QUINONEZSince DACA was rescinded in 2017, I have been living under so much uncertainty, not knowing what the future has planned ahead for me, planning my life, you know, every two years, which is the amount of time I get under DACA. And, you know, I just wanted to be there celebrating and letting other people in other places within the U.S. know that, you know, it's okay to be undocumented. It's okay to be unafraid, and it's okay to be in joyful rebellion.
NNAMDIYou said you wanted to be there to celebrate. Does that mean that you anticipated that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of DACA?
QUINONEZNo matter what, I was going to be there to celebrate. I think that we have come a very long way. I still remember being a high school student and being very ashamed, being very afraid, being ashamed of being undocumented and not being able to fully live my life. And I still remember the day that I said that I was undocumented for the first time.
QUINONEZAnd, you know, no matter what, we wanted to be there to celebrate our humanity if the decision was not the best one that we were expecting or, in fact, you know, celebrate that we had a victory that day. We wanted to be there, in community, no matter what.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Paula Fitzgerald, executive director of Ayuda. Paula Fitzgerald, thank you for joining us.
PAULA FITZGERALDThank you for having me.
NNAMDIFor our listeners who don't know, what is Ayuda and what is your organization's relationship with local DACA recipients?
FITZGERALDYeah, sure. So, Ayuda provides legal, social and language services to low-income immigrants in the DMV. These services help immigrants access justice, transform their life. And we've been serving immigrants in the area since 1973 and have served more than 100,000 immigrants. Last year, we served almost 9,000 immigrants in 25 languages across 102 countries of origin.
FITZGERALDAnd, with regard to DACA, we've filed a total of 436 DACA applications and renewals, and also have filed for Dreamers a lot of other applications for different forms of relief that we found that they qualified for when we did the initial DACA consultations. So, we've done a lot of work with DACA recipients, especially on the legal side.
NNAMDIWell, not every undocumented immigrant is eligible for DACA. What are the requirements that a DACA recipient must meet?
FITZGERALDRight. So, they have to have been under 31 years of age as of June 15th, 2012. They have to have come to the United States before they reach their 16th birthday, have resided in the U.S. continuously since June 15th, 2007 up to the present time. They currently have to be in school or have graduated or obtained a GED or have been honorably discharged from the U.S. armed forces or Coast Guard or be serving. And they cannot have been convicted of a felony or a significant misdemeanor or three or more misdemeanors, and they have to be found to have not posed a threat to national security or public safety.
NNAMDIWe'd love to hear from you. Are you a member of the immigrant community? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. What are your hopes for future policies on immigration? 800-433-8850. You can send us a Tweet @kojoshow. What was your reaction to this Supreme Court decision to preserve Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, more commonly known as DACA. 800-433-8850. Joining us now is Paola, a DACA recipient. We're not using her full name to protect Paola's privacy and that of her family. Paola, thank you for joining us.
PAOLAHi. Thank you so much for having me today.
NNAMDILike many other DACA recipients, you came to the United States at a very young age. How old were you when you left your birth country, and what was your experience as a young immigrant?
PAOLAI was seven when I left my country. I came from Peru, and coming here, I grew up in Montgomery County, so it's a very diverse community. So, all my life, I've never felt out of place, until eventually I had to apply for the DACA papers. And that's when I found out I'm not like your regular student. Like, I needed protection in order for me to just be able to go to school or even consider applying for a job.
NNAMDISo, during your childhood in Montgomery County, you were not aware of your undocumented status?
PAOLANo. I believe it was the reason for my parents to protect us, for both me and my sister not to feel afraid and left out of place. So, eventually, when I got older I understood that I couldn't leave the country for, like, under any circumstances, and that I had to apply for a program in order for me to go to school.
NNAMDIHow old were you when you became a DACA recipient?
PAOLAJunior year of high school, I would've been around 16.
NNAMDIClaudia Quinonez, how old were you when you were brought to the United States? Did you know about your undocumented status growing up?
QUINONEZSo, I came to the U.S. in 2006. I was 11 years old, and my mother and I migrated to the U.S., fleeing political instability and climate change. Before I came to the U.S., there was a water war in the place that I'm from, which basically means there wasn't any water. And there were riots and protests, because, you know, the community wanted water. And we came here on a tourist visa, and we had a stay for six months.
QUINONEZAnd I still remember very well the day that my mother brought up the conversation. It was a day that our, quote-unquote, "status" was going to expire. And she said to me, hey, guess what? Today's the day that we officially become undocumented. So, I knew very well growing up that I was undocumented, but it really didn't affect me until I got to high school. I started to see my friends apply for jobs, to study abroad, for scholarships, for FAFSA. And I remember just feeling very limited with my options and opportunities that I wanted to have access to and I knew that I deserved, but I couldn't because I didn't have a Social Security Number.
NNAMDIWhen, Claudia, did you become a DACA recipient? And at what point did you start sharing your undocumented status with other people?
QUINONEZSo, I graduated from high school in 2013, and I started to share my status around that same time. I knew that I wanted to go to college. College was my dream. And, at that point, Maryland was charging undocumented students like myself out-of-state tuition, which meant that instead of paying $8,000 every year for tuition, I will be paying triple that amount.
QUINONEZAnd so there was this campaign in 2012. I was a junior in high school, and I decided that I wanted to join. And that's what I did. I organized, I spoke to registered voters, and we ultimately won that campaign to pass the Maryland DREAM Act in-state tuition for undocumented students in 2012. I was granted DACA three months before graduating from high school in 2013.
QUINONEZAnd the first thing that I did with my DACA card was to go to the Social Security Office and get a Social Security Number. Then I got on a bus and I went to Montgomery College, which is my local community college, and I went to the registrar's office and told them, hey, I want to enroll in school. I don't know how but please help me. And so they guided me through that whole process. And, finally, I graduated from college, from Trinity Washington University, this past May.
NNAMDICongratulations on that. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Are you a member of the immigrant community? What are your hopes for future policies on immigration? 800-433-8850. Here's Sakyu, in Silver Spring. Sakyu, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAKYUWell, good afternoon to you, Kojo. I'm a fan of your show.
SAKYUAnd this is (unintelligible) to the guests. First of all, I want to say congratulations on the ruling, and congratulations to all those who have been directly or indirectly affected by this ruling Again, as we all know family members who do not go to bed at night because they are worried about the immigration status, it affects all of us. And as kids, you know, kids don't usually have any voice in the decision-making process to relocate. And, again, for a lot of them, they have actually been in America for more years than they have actually been in their previous countries.
SAKYUSo they are actually more American than foreigners. So, again, the opportunity is there for them to actually maybe part of the system and contribute the right way, absolutely (unintelligible) by talking. We are all immigrants so to speak.
NNAMDIIndeed, you make some very valid points, Sakyu. Thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us, 800-433-8850. Would you support Congress passing legislation protecting DACA recipients from deportation indefinitely? 800-433-8850. Paola and Claudia, this question is for both of you, but I'll start with you, Paola. In 2017, President Trump announced that he would move to end DACA. How have you handled the uncertainty of these last three years?
PAOLAIt's definitely scary not knowing what's going to be the next step, especially, at that time, I was still in school. So, just having the idea of maybe, like, in the next couple of years, I wouldn’t be able to continue studying or even working after I received my Bachelor's Degree. It's just kind of like it's scary knowing that you're living in uncertain times and that your status is not, like, legal, in a way, and that you don't know what's going to happen. That's a very scary feeling not knowing kind of in a sense that you don't belong here, and the Trump Administration doesn't want you here, and they say a bunch of things about DACA recipients. So...
NNAMDIBelonging -- not belonging in the place where you spent most of your life. Same question to you, Claudia.
QUINONEZSo, I remember that when Trump was running for office, one of his campaign promises was to end the DACA program. And, quite honestly, I was waiting for that decision or for that announcement since the day he was sworn into office. But it took him almost seven to nine months to do it. And, you know, I feel that, at that moment, I put my life on hold. I dropped out of college in December, 2016, just because I couldn't deal with the stress and uncertainty. I didn't know if I was going to have a job or if I was able -- if I was going to be able to work and afford tuition. So, I made that decision.
QUINONEZAnd then, as Paola was mentioning, it's been such an uncertain time. The DACA case has gone from almost every single appellate court to the other. And we've had some very, you know, good outcomes from those decisions and rulings, as well. And, you know, I was planning my life in two-year intervals, which is the time that DACA gives you.
QUINONEZAnd, right now, my DACA is set to expire in June, 2021. And, again, we didn't know what the Supreme Court was going to rule like. And I only planned my life until June, 2021. I haven't planned past that. Right now, I do feel relieved. I feel that I can plan something. I feel that, you know, I'm going to have some sort of stability for the next few years.
QUINONEZBut we also know that the Trump Administration has said that they're planning to rescind the program again. And so I'm still, in a way, feeling so much uncertainty, because the future of DACA continues to be uncertain. And that means that my life will continue to be uncertain until Congress passes legislation that protects everyone.
NNAMDIIndeed, Paula Fitzgerald, despite the Supreme Court's decision, as we just heard, the fate of DACA is still uncertain. What kind of impact would an end to DACA have on local immigrant communities?
FITZGERALDOh, it would have an enormous impact. I mean, DACA has been such a success program, you know, not only on a humanitarian side, but, you know, like Claudia was saying, the ability to go to college and find gainful employment. In a recent study, they showed that before COVID, 91 percent of DACA recipients were currently employed, and their wages had increased up from $10.29 an hour before receiving DACA to $17.46 an hour.
FITZGERALDWe also have a lot of DACA workers who are working in -- about 200,000 are considered essential workers and 27,000 who are in the health care area. So, during COVID, we have a lot of DACA recipients who are the heroes in this fight, so to speak. And, you know, at this point, also, a lot of DACA recipients have children of their own. And so, in terms of keeping stability in families and all that, it's all intertwined. So, a rescission of DACA would be just terrible for this country and for the individuals who receive it, as well as everyone connected with them.
NNAMDIHere is Carol, in Alexandria. Carol, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CAROLHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to share that DACA has greatly affected our family. I'm a U.S. citizen, but I have two stepdaughters, one who's eligible to DACA recipient, one who is not who remains undocumented, as well as my husband, who remains undocumented. Our family lives precariously every day. And the Trump administration has made life much harder both on a psychological and financial level for our family.
CAROLAnd I think what a lot of people don't realize, people think because I'm a U.S. citizen, I'm able to help my husband and at least one of my stepdaughters, who are undocumented. But we've seen 10 different immigration lawyers and it looks like, at least for sure for my husband, there will never be a path for citizenship unless laws change. So, I just want to sympathize and let everybody know that I'm really on the side of DACA. And even as a U.S. citizen originally from the U.S., born here, I fight every day to help every immigrant that I can.
NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing that story with us, Carol. Paula Fitzgerald, how many stories do you hear like that, somebody who is married to somebody who was born in the U.S., who is a U.S. citizen, yet does not have a path to citizenship?
FITZGERALDYeah. So, I started as an immigration attorney, and so I hear these stories very regularly. I think the perception is, as Carol mentioned, that that should take care of it all. And it doesn't often. And so that's a very common story, unfortunately. And there's a lot of other similar stories, situations where people can't obtain status, despite the fact that most Americans would think that they should be able to. But our immigration system's deeply flawed and it hasn't been fixed, you know, despite some efforts, for way too long.
NNAMDIPaola, did you and your family have a plan in place in case the Supreme Court ruled against DACA?
PAOLAWe definitely did not plan going back home. We do -- we're lucky enough to have our own house back home in Peru. But the plan -- we're trying to think as positive as we can, just seeing the progress that we have gone through. And that, at the end of the day, I believe that we're going to have a victory, because this country was based on immigrants. And if worse comes to worse, I think the plan would be to look for another country where they can accept my parents, both me and my sister, where we can pursue our dreams with our degrees that we already accomplished.
NNAMDIPaula Fitzgerald, can local jurisdictions do anything to make life a little easier for DACA recipients?
FITZGERALD(laugh) I have a list of things. They could extend state-funded benefits to all residents using D.C. Health Care Alliance as an example. They could refuse to cooperate and share information with ICE. Allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses. Fortunately, in this area, we've made progress there, providing in-state tuition, as Claudia was mentioning, to undocumented immigrants, and assisting with financial aid, provide sufficient funding for immigration legal services -- because it all starts with a consultation -- corroborating closely with legal service providers. And at Ayuda we serve a lot of victims of crime that require services from law enforcement to certified certification. So, prioritizing those services. And also identifying children in the school system who need immigration legal assistance, because, in some of these cases, time is very much of the essence. And a child who might be referred for an immigration consult before they turn 18 might have options available to them that would not exist after they turn 18. And so those are some of the things that can be done on the local and state level.
NNAMDIHere's Helena, in Arlington. Helena, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HELENAWell, good morning. I have never heard anybody say what I'm going to say. Jurisdictions, school systems all over the United States have spent billions of tax dollars educating the children who are in the DACA category. Why would we throw that investment away?
NNAMDIYes. That is a very important point that I have heard before, maybe not in the exact words that you have said it. But would you care to respond to that, Claudia?
QUINONEZAbsolutely, yeah. You know, just there is to say that, you know, youth are the future of this nation and that exactly...
NNAMDI(overlapping) We only have about a minute left, by the way.
QUINONEZ...and that's exactly what we are. We are the future. And, you know, just as other DACA recipients and, you know, myself, we feel that our futures are here, and we want to be members of our communities. I have so many friends that are educators that are teaching at public high schools. They're in the medical field, and we want to continue to, you know, live our existences here. We no longer want to survive, but we want to thrive here.
NNAMDIAnd some 27,000 DACA recipients are frontline health care workers during this coronavirus. As our caller said, we educated these people. Why would we now want to throw them away? I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Paolo, thank you for joining us. Paula Fitzgerald, thank you for joining us. And Claudia Quinonez, thank you all for joining us.
NNAMDIThis segment on the Supreme Court's DACA decision was produced by Kayla Hewitt. And our conversation about the court's ruling protecting LGBTQ people from employment discrimination was produced by Richard Cunningham. The next Kojo In Your Virtual Community is tonight at 7:30 p.m., and it's not too late to join our in-depth conversation about race. We'll hear from activists, legislators and others about addressing inequality within all sectors of society. The event is free, but you need to register by 5:00 pm today at kojoshow.org.
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow, local businesses are beginning to open their doors to in-person customers, but will these customers show up, and how hard will it be to maintain social distancing? We'll hear what reopening looks like for gyms, clothing stores, barbershops and other businesses and how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their bottom lines. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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