Las Vegas Sun

December 9, 2021

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We need citizenship’: Young Las Vegas immigrants lament judge’s DACA ruling

Steve Marcus

LaLo Montoya, an organizer with Make the Road Nevada, speaks during a “Citizenship For All” rally in front of the Foley Federal Building in downtown Las Vegas Friday, July 2, 2021. Montoya is among a chorus of critics taking aim at a federal court judge’s ruling last week that pulled the rug out from immigrants seeking legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Make the Road Nevada housing organizer LaLo Montoya was only 2 years old when his family immigrated to the United States from Zacatecas, Mexico.

It wasn’t until 2012 that Montoya would be protected from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was enacted by the Obama administration. The program allows the children of immigrants — also known as “Dreamers” — who came to the U.S. illegally the chance to apply for two-years-long, renewable work authorizations without being deported.

Other immigrants seeking refuge in the U.S. may not be able to follow the same trail as Montoya after afederal judge in Texas last week ruled the DACA program was illegal and instructed the Biden administration to block new applicants.

While Judge Andrew Hanen’s order does not affect current recipients, it has sent those pursuing DACA status into limbo, Montoya said.

The ruling was spurred by a 2018 lawsuit filed by Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and eight other states, who claim Texas and other states bear negative repercussions in protecting DACA recipients, including the cost of law enforcement, health care and education.

Montoya said he recalled moments from his younger years as an undocumented immigrant through the roles he had to quickly undertake. He translated conversations between his mother and father — a cleaner and construction worker, respectively — and doctors or teachers alongside helping care for his three younger siblings. This circumstance is not unlike other immigrant families, he said.

“The DACA recipients that are applying for the first time, they grew up with that same responsibility, and that’s why the attack on them is so cruel,” he said. “They’ve done everything that’s being asked of them, and they’re citizens in every way except on paper.”

There are 616,030 active DACA recipients in the U.S. as of March, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In Nevada, there are 11,720 DACA recipients, 9,370 of which live in Clark County.

A Las Vegas-area undocumented student who wished to remain anonymous out of deportation fears is seeking first-time DACA status and had an appointment scheduled one week after the ruling. The ruling frustrates the aspiring speech pathologist and social worker and raises safety concerns.

“It’s very important for us to have safety and also have a pathway to citizenship because we’ve been here since (we were) kids,” the student said. “This is all we know.”

Astrid Silva of Dream Big Nevada, an organization that assists immigrant families, said the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services sent cancellation texts and emails last weekend to new DACA applicants. In a Twitter post that includes a screenshot between herself and someone Silva said was the mother of a prospective DACA recipient, Silva wrote that it took six months for them to schedule the appointment — a delay that was undermined by how quickly it was canceled.

Silva said that because these cancellation messages arrived on a Sunday, the applicants were not given adequate time to adjust.

“In a positive case, it takes (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) quite awhile, but this time, when it was negative … they didn’t even take an entire weekend,” she said. “It was a reminder that, no matter what administration we’re under, this is not a permanent solution.”

President Joe Biden said in a statement that the Department of Justice would defend DACA and appeal Hanen’s ruling, though ultimately it is up to Congress, he said, to create a lasting solution.

“It is my fervent hope that through reconciliation or other means, Congress will finally provide security to all Dreamers, who have lived too long in fear,” he stated.

Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Mastro described the ruling as wrong and said that it put the safety of many DACA applications into question. She also said that to counteract this decision, senators must pass the American Dream and Promise Act, which would allow immigrants permanent resident status.

“DACA empowered undocumented youth to come out of the shadows and contribute to our communities in immeasurable ways — from serving in our military to being on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic,” she said in a statement.

In the same vein, Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., also expressed her support for laws that would permit immigrants to gain full citizenship.

“It is critical that we immediately pass immigration reform legislation through any means possible, including the budget reconciliation process,” she said.

Nevada Democratic Reps. Susie Lee, Steven Horsford and Dina Titus posted their opposition to Hanen’s decision on social media. Rep. Mark Amodei, the Nevada delegation’s lone Republican, did not comment on the ruling.

Montoya said he was hopeful the Senate Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation measure announced last week would pass and include a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers as well as those on Temporary Protected Status, farmworkers and essential workers.

“Immigrants are the fabric of our community, are a part of the fabric of Nevada, and we can’t wait any longer,” he said. “We need citizenship. That’s the only way.”