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Federal judge’s DACA ruling disappoints Maryland immigration advocates

A federal court ruling against the “dreamers” program for young people who are undocumented immigrants reverberated across the country, including in Maryland where thousands of people are enrolled in the program.

“It’s certainly disappointing,” said Catalina Rodriguez Lima, director of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs in Baltimore.

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“They’ve had so much instability and they deserve a way to become citizens and a pathway to something more stable,” she said.

On Friday, a federal judge in Texas ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — better known as DACA — is illegal. DACA was created by President Barack Obama in 2012 to protect people who arrived in the United States as children without legal permission.

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DACA status allows individuals to stay in the country and work or attend school without fear of deportation. Many recipients are known as “dreamers.”

U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen ordered the U.S. to stop approving new applicants for DACA, though he allowed current DACA participants to keep and renew their status for now. President Joe Biden has vowed to appeal in this latest legal battle over the DACA program.

Hanen, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, ruled in favor of several states, all with Republican governors or state attorneys general, that filed lawsuits arguing that Obama unlawfully circumvented Congress when he created the DACA program by executive order in 2012.

The states — Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia — also argued that the program drains their educational and health care resources.

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In Friday’s ruling, Hanen wrote that the states proved “the hardship that the continued operation of DACA has inflicted on them.”

The judge’s ruling is a blow to DACA recipients and those who hope to enroll in the program, like Morelys, an incoming freshman at Morgan State University.

“It is very stressful. It’s very depressing and gives me anxiety, given the fact that I am someone who is fully undocumented,” said Morelys, who asked to be identified by her first name only because of her immigration status.

Morelys’ family is from the Dominican Republic and she came here at age 15. Now 19, she plans to major in communications and political science with dreams of becoming a news anchor on a Spanish-language TV network or a government spokesperson. She interns with the immigrants’ advocacy group CASA.

“When programs like DACA — which are not enough, but which are something — are not successful, it gives me even less hope than I had before,” Morelys said.

Morelys is not eligible for DACA but would qualify under another proposal called the Dream and Promise Act.

Last week, Morelys said she was elated to learn Democrats would try to include immigration reforms in the infrastructure bill that’s being negotiated in Congress. “Then the next day the DACA thing happened,” Morelys said. “It’s really a roller coaster.”

Approximately 640,000 immigrants benefit from the program, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Many recipients have lived in the U.S. for a decade or longer after being brought into the country without permission or overstaying visas. The liberal Center for American Progress says roughly 254,000 children have at least one parent relying on DACA.

In Maryland, there were 7,870 active DACA recipients last year, according to the American Immigration Council. All told, since DACA was established in 2012, nearly 10,000 people in Maryland have participated at one point.

Another approximately 5,000 people would qualify for DACA but have not met the requirement of a high school diploma or GED.

“We’ve seen the benefits of allowing these young individuals who didn’t have a choice of coming to the U.S. or not to be able to go to school and work and pay taxes,” said Rodriguez Lima from the mayor’s office. “They are teachers, they are nurses, they are advocates. They contribute in many, many ways.”

Rodriguez Lima said DACA is a “smart policy” that allows people to come “out of the shadows” and participate in the community and the economy.

Nick Katz, CASA’s legal director, said the litigation and political fights over DACA have been draining for the group’s members.

“It’s awful for our folks to have no sense of permanency about their status,” Katz said.

CASA is pushing Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reforms to give a pathway to citizenship not only for DACA recipients, but also for others, including those with temporary protected status.

“It really is imperative that finally Congress takes action to fix this,” Katz said. “There’s massive public support for this, and it hasn’t translated to legislative action.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Taylor DeVille and The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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