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Undocumented Immigrants In Kansas City Scramble In Wake Of Adverse Court Ruling

A hand holds up a sign over the heads of protestors in front of the Supreme Court in Washington DC. The sign says "Defend DACA' and "#DACAHOPE" in front of a picture of a butterfly.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
People rally November 2019 outside the Supreme Court as oral arguments are heard in the case of President Trump's decision to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).

Two immigration reform advocates reflect on how a federal court ruling in July has affected undocumented Kansas Citians.

A ruling by a federal judge in Texas last month that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is illegal has provoked fear and confusion among the undocumented immigrants the program aims to protect from deportation. The ruling does not cancel current DACA permits but suspends any new or currently processing applicants. The ruling, which the Department of Justice said it plans to appeal, throws out over 80,000 backlogged DACA applications.

“Our community is scared,” Karla Juarez, executive director of Advocates for Immigrant Rights and Reconciliation, said on Up to Date Tuesday.

While their applications are suspended, DACA applicants fear the government will use their personal information to locate and deport them.

Any application that’s still being processed or stuck in the backlog will no longer be eligible for DACA. And while those DACA hopefuls are unprotected, Juarez said, it becomes difficult for them to imagine a future in this country.

“And I speak this on experience,” Juarez said. “I was a young high school individual who was undocumented. And I did not want to go to school, I didn't want to go to college, because why should I pursue college if I could not work in this country?”

“You just, like, smashed the hope of these individuals,” Juarez said.

Yazmin Brunno is a DACA recipient at Kansas Missouri Dream Alliance, an organization that provides resources for DACA-eligible individuals. She sets up DACA clinics to guide clients submitting DACA applications. On the Saturday after the federal ruling, Brunno said, staff cancelled the DACA clinic and called each of their clients to break the news.

“When the news broke out, the questions were just flooding,” Brunno said.

Brunno said people were confused, many not even aware of the ruling and its impact.

“Laws are constantly changing, unfortunately. Every day there’s a new news article about DACA. And so it doesn't give people time to even catch up,” Brunno said.

The ruling was also personal for Brunno. One of the clients she called is a friend of hers that she had urged to apply for DACA. Brunno said she was devastated to have to tell her the news.

“So that's why I carried a lot of guilt, is because I had pushed so many others to apply. And most of them, their applications didn’t go through,” Brunno said.

Through her own experience, Brunno said she can empathize with her clients’ current feelings of hopelessness.

“I was in their shoes when Donald Trump took away DACA for the first time,” Brunno said. “I felt like, ‘Oh, well, my chance is gone.’”

Brunno, herself a DACA recipient, received DACA protection after the Supreme Court in June 2020 blocked the Trump administration’s plan to end the DACA program.

She’s among the 1% of applicants who were approved during the window when DACA applications were open from December to July. Now, the federal ruling has shut down the possibility of any new DACA recipients after her cohort.

“I felt terrible, because I felt like I got right in and I had, like, that door was just shut right behind me,” Brunno said. “I mean, I carry a lot of guilt. I know that it is not my guilt to carry, because I didn't set this up. But I don't think I deserve DACA or I deserve these protections any more than anyone else.”

DACA has been important in her life; Brunno said it’s thanks to the program that she has a scholarship to attend college and the security of knowing she can one day legally work as an immigration lawyer in the US.

Juarez, however, said that DACA is not the solution the community needs. She said the program, which was created by an executive order issued by President Barack Obama, acts more like a bandaid than actual protection.

“We know immigration is a federal issue, right. And it needs a federal solution,” Juarez said.

Both Brunno and Juarez say the end goal is comprehensive immigration reform for all undocumented people, not just Dreamers.

“Through different means of legislation, we are able to secure what our community deserves. And that's a pathway to citizenship, not only for DACA recipients, but hopefully, for all 11 million undocumented people in our society,” Brunno said.

Jamie Jiang is a news intern for KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @jambojiang
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