A federal ruling left thousands of hopeful Dreamers drift. Will Congress act?
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Grisell Mendoza was days from DACA approval when the judicial system pulled out the rug.

Grisell Mendoza tried not to get her hopes up about having her application to be a Dreamer approved. But the end of the tunnel seemed right ahead of her before July 19.

That’s the day a federal judge said no new Deferred Action for Child Arrivals could be approved. The ruling came four days before Grissell had a biometric exam scheduled, the last step in a long DACA application before the 20-year-old legally secured permission to be in the United States 18 years after coming here.

“It was so close,” she said. “My Social Security Number was supposed to come in. I was going to get my driver’s license and work permit. This was the last step in opening up a new chapter and opening a new door.”

Instead, the Coral Gables woman entered an all-too-familiar state of limbo. And she’s not alone. Ted Hutchinson, Florid director for immigration advocacy group fwd.us, said about 80,000 nationwide had applications were pending when U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen froze all progress. Now, not only is there a question about what happened to $500 fees paid by every one of those individuals, but each one emerging from the shadows of the undocumented has now been left without any legal status and with enormous uncertainty about their own future.

“We are now in this spot and the chaos created was intentional,” Hutchinson said.

But the bright lining, he said, is there’s a stronger argument than ever for Congress to finally step up and pass comprehensive immigration reform.

“DACA was never intended to be permanent,” he said.

An immigration bill has already been approved by the House, and because it budgets funding to establish a path to citizenship, Hutchinson believes it can be passed in the Senate through budget reconciliation.

He still has hope Republican Senators, such as Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, who have supported pro-immigrant policies like temporary protected status in the past, could help craft and support a process for permanent citizenship to be granted for many DACA recipients.

But Democrats need to pass something now while they control both chambers of Congress and the White House, to make it happen, he said.

Immigration advocates weren’t necessarily surprised when Hanen put out a decision hostile to DACA. And there’s a silver lining. The decision will not impact the roughly 826,000 Dreamers already approved to legally stay in the United States. That’s a number that includes about 170,000 Florida Dreamers, according to a recent survey by fwd.us.

But closing off approvals created urgency for individuals like Mendoza. She has no memory of life in Honduras, the nation where she was born, but left almost immediately. She was just two years old when her family came to the United States.

She graduated a few years ago from Coral Gables High School, and grew up collecting nautilus shells on the beach in South Florida. She now works at a restaurant in Mary Brickell Village, but had been preparing to apply for college as soon as her DACA acceptance came through.

She had worked on the process with Americans for immigrant Justice, and had hoped her DACA request would be the first bit of help for members of her family. She has younger siblings born U.S. citizens, but felt earning DACA status would help her parents and other members of her extended family become documented as well.

Mendoza herself doesn’t like to go to protests, fearful an arrest at one could ruin her chance at legal residency. That seemed especially true after a new law in Florida made it much more legally risky to even be near a protest where others commit crimes. She’s nervous whenever she drives without a driver’s license.

“I have to have a clean record,” she said. “There is so much pressure I don’t think you understand, every time I’m passing a cop and being scared that as soon as I get a ticket, that already affects my DACA application. Any little interaction with law enforcement hurts.”

Still, she’s speaking up about her situation and hopes others in a similar situation do the same. She’s now hoping Congress will be convinced to take action and quickly give her another legal avenue to stay and pursue her dreams in the United States.

“Why not give these kids a chance? Just give these beautiful children who can literally become the next generation, give a chance for us to grow in this country,” she said. “Just because we weren’t born here doesn’t mean we weren’t part of it. We put in the hours, worked for people, paid taxes, all of these things that come with living in this country. Why don’t they give us a chance to become ourselves?”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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