Introduced by former President Barack Obama in June 2012, DACA allows nearly 800,000 undocumented young people to work and go to school legally. It also shields them from deportation by federal immigration authorities.
Two years later, Obama announced the expansion of DACA and the formation of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), a similar policy that would protect parents of undocumented youth, often referred to as Dreamers. A Texas judge would later rule against DAPA and the expansion of DACA.
Three years ago, a Mexican-American DACA recipient named Martin Batalla Vidal had his DACA-issued work permit revoked as a result of that judge’s ruling. Vidal filed a federal lawsuit challenging that ruling.
“DACA has given us opportunities that we never thought we’d have,” Vidal said. “It’s been a wonderful experience. It opened opportunities.”
Immigration advocacy groups threw their support behind the lawsuit, including Make the Road New York, which became a co-plaintiff in the case. Yale Law School and the National Immigration Law Center signed on to provide legal assistance.
But soon after, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the termination of DACA. That caused the plaintiffs to amend their original complaint to challenge the Trump administration’s move.
Several more DACA recipients, including Antonio Alarcon from Queens, joined the case as co-plaintiffs. More than a dozen state attorneys general also filed separate lawsuits to challenge the termination of DACA.
Last year, a federal judge in California issued a nationwide injunction, ordering the Trump administration to restart DACA. A month later, another federal judge in Brooklyn issued another injunction, calling the White House’s decision “both arbitrary and capricious.”
The Justice Department filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit altogether, but their motion was dismissed. Sessions then asked the Supreme Court to take up the case, leading up to the oral arguments on November 12.
Last Thursday, Vidal, Alarcon and Ricardo Aca, a DACA recipient and digital organizer at Make the Road New York, spoke at LaGuardia Community College, where they all attended at one point in their lives.
They shared their stories of coming to the United States, how their undocumented status affected their lives and the difference DACA has made.
Vidal, who graduated from high school in 2008, recalled that there were not many college opportunities for undocumented students beacuse they did not qualify for financial aid.
But after DACA was announced, Vidal said he was able to go to school and study for a career in the medical field. Today, he works in Corona at a rehab center for traumatic brain injuries.
“I never thought I would be there,” he said. “But DACA has given me the opportunities to be who I am and has helped my community.”
Alarcon said he came to the country when he was 10 years old. He remembered crossing the border from Mexico with his parents for three days and three nights.
In his first year in the United States, Alarcon did not go to school because his parents thought undocumented students were not allowed. He recalled sitting at home “in the shadows” from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. everyday.
Eventually, he attended middle school and high school, where he was part of student government and was among the top students in his school. But when his guidance counselor recommended that he apply for a scholarship, Alarcon was told he needed to provide a social security number.
“That was the moment I realized that because of the lack of those nine digits, I was not able to apply for my dream schools,” he said.
But the Queens resident graduated from high school, attended LaGuardia Community College for two years, followed by two more years at Queens College. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in film with a minor in political science.
“All I can tell you is never give up,” he told a group of students at LaGuardia last week.
Aca, who like Vidal and Alarcon is also Mexican-American, told a similar immigration story. He moved to the country when he was 14 years old and immediately went to high school.
Before he graduated, despite being at the top of his class, he did not apply for his dream schools because he knew would not receive aid. But a guidance counselor recommended LaGuardia, which he decided to attend because of its photography program.
“I’ve always loved playing with Photoshop and learning photography,” Aca said. “Within my family, I’m always the person taking photos.”
DACA was soon announced after he graduated college, which had an impact on his career. LaGuardia initially offered Aca an internship in its Photography Department, but he had to decline because he didn’t have papers.
But on December 31, 2012, Aca received his DACA-issued work permit, which he called the “best New Year’s Eve present.” He went on to work for a few years at LaGuardia, where he produced a photo series called “Not A” to dispel stereotypes about Mexicans and Latino immigrants.
The exhibit was in response to Trump’s campaign rhetoric that Mexicans were “rapists” and “drug dealers.”
Aca, who worked as a waiter at a restaurant in one of Trump’s buildings, later made a viral YouTube video coming out as undocumented. He continued his activism at Make the Road, where he helped launch a campaign called “Our Home is Here.”
The digital organizer recently led a group of 200 people on a march from New York to Washington D.C. ahead of the November 12th oral arguments. Over 18 days, the group traveled 230 miles and rallying at the steps of the Supreme Court.
Both Vidal and Alarcon appeared at the Supreme Court for the case as well.
Vidal said last week that he initially didn’t want to sue the federal government because he was scared. After the first lawsuit, he said he heard a lot of negative comments, including messages calling on him to be deported.
“It really got to me,” he said. “I’m over here trying to do something for our community, and at the end of the day all I’m getting is negative feedback.”
But he also received strong support throughout the country, motivating him to stay the course. Alarcon said he felt Vidal’s decision was “brave.”
“Joining the lawsuit was the right thing to do,” Alarcon said. “It’s to give a voice to folks who might not want to speak up.”
At the panel discussion last week, Aca said he was excited to support his friends and fellow DACA recipients at the Supreme Court. He was hopeful for a positive ruling.
“I know that regardless of what happens, we’re going to continue to fight,” he said.