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St. Louis-Area DACA Recipients And Advocates Hail Supreme Court Decision As A Big Win

Unauthorized immigrants in rural areas who seek legal representation can often face roadblocks when trying to find credible lawyers.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
The U.S. Supreme Court halted the Trump administration's latest attempts to deport nearly 800,000 DACA recipients.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Trump administration cannot arbitrarily end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

President Barack Obama implemented the program in 2012 to allow people who entered the U.S. without authorization as children to remain in the country. The high court’s 5-4 decision protects about 800,000 immigrants known as Dreamers, at least temporarily, and comes as a relief for St. Louis-area DACA recipients.

“My thinking was, I have six months to work as much as I can, to go to school as much as I can, to have more work for my family here at our family business,” said Juan Mendez, a 20-year-old DACA recipient from Madison County, Illinois. 

Mendez came to the U.S. from northern Mexico in 2004. His father arrived first and Mendez and his siblings received visas. He said the decision removes months of uncertainty and stress. He sent in documents to renew his DACA status last November.

“It's been a crazy ride for me and my family in the past six months, almost a year," said Mendez, who is in a mariachi band with his family. “I didn't know what could happen, you know, I was taking it day by day.”

The decision means that the DACA program can continue and allow recipients to stay in school and work, said Kristine Walentik, managing attorney for St. Francis Community Services.

“It can continue to allow all of our DACA recipients to renew their work permits for two years, and we're hoping that it should also allow for new applicants who meet the requirements to apply in the future to receive that protection.”

While the decision is a win for DACA recipients and advocates, Walentik said she’d like to see Congress pass legislation creating a permanent path to citizenship for Dreamers and an immigration overhaul that would protect other unauthorized immigrants.

Walentik worries the Trump administration, which announced in 2017 that it would end the program, could still try to do so.

“They can come back and with further explanation and justification, they can try to terminate this program,” Walentik said. “DACA exists for now, and we're excited about that, but it doesn't mean it's going to continue forever.”

Other DACA recipients in the region said they are cautiously optimistic about the decision. They include Brayan, a 25-year-old south St. Louis resident who did not want to give his last name because he wants to protect his family's privacy. He said the court’s decision is a good start but more needs to be done.

“I am happy for that decision today, however I feel like I have to just take it like it is; to me, it just seems like a small victory,” Brayan said. “The reason why I say it's not a win for the whole immigrant communities is because we have 11-plus-more million ... who need and deserve the same relief or even better relief that we're getting, and they are not getting it.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

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Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.