‘This is our home.’ In conversation with a local DREAMer
The Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration on ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program Thursday. WBFO’s Kyle Mackie speaks to a Buffalo DREAMer about what DACA’s survival means to her.
DACA protects the group of about 700,000 young immigrants known as DREAMers, who were brought to the U.S. without authorization as children, from deportation. The program also allows recipients to get legal work permits and apply for college loans. Those are opportunities that 23-year-old Flor Silvestre of Buffalo said have changed her life.
“It definitely opened up a lot of doorways for myself,” Silvestre said. “I was able to apply prior to entering college, and so I entered college with DACA, and that allowed me to work and fund my college education [and] help my family out.”
Silvestre immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico with her family when she was two years old. She grew up in New York City and graduated from Lehman College of the City University of New York before moving to Buffalo about a year ago for a paralegal job at Borowski Immigration Law.
“Growing up in this type of limbo, it definitely opened up to my eyes to how my community itself may not always be aware or may not always know where to seek solutions regarding immigration law, so I definitely wanted to educate myself and become part of that sector,” Silvestre said. “I feel like this is what I was born to do because all I want to do is help my community.”
Silvestre also said she’s committed to fighting for a permanent solution for her and other DREAMers, who will still have to reapply for DACA protection every two years despite Thursday’s ruling, which described President Donald Trump’s 2017 executive order ending the program as “arbitrary and capricious.”
President Trump has argued that DACA was illegal and unconstitutional since its creation by President Barack Obama in 2012. He also dismissed the court's decision on Twitter, calling it “horrible & politically charged.”
“There’s no question and there’s no argument at all, by either party, that the administration has the power to revoke Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” said Buffalo-based immigration attorney Matthew Kolken Thursday. “But the problem is that there’s a process for them to do it and they failed to follow their own rules.”
Kolken, who has represented DREAMers in Western New York and elsewhere, also said DACA doesn’t represent “blanket amnesty,” as President Trump has claimed.
“DACA is not an immediate path to citizenship. DACA is not even an immediate path to lawful permanent residence,” he said. “It’s simply a temporary reprieve from deportation and the ability to live a more normal life in the United States, so long as that individual is otherwise lawful.”
Even so, the ruling is being celebrated by many in Western New York, including President of the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York Casimiro Rodriguez.
“This decision today… symbolizes what America is all about. It's a land of freedom, a land of opportunity and progress for anyone that wants to live here and be part of America and its dream,” Rodriguez said. “So, for our community, it's jubilation."
Rodriguez added that the Supreme Court’s decision, which surprised many observers given the court’s conservative majority, is even more powerful now coming during a difficult time of pandemic and protests against police brutality and racism.
“To hear news like this pretty much brings a sigh of relief that the struggles and these protests will not be in vain—that, you know, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
Both Kolken and Rodriguez said the majority of Western New York’s immigrants aren’t DREAMers but that there are a number of DACA recipients, like Silvestre, around. New York State is home to nearly 29,000 DREAMers, according to the American Immigration Council.
“This is our home. Like, at the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to,” Silvestre said. “People are here to work. People are here to contribute to the world, make a living for themselves and support their families.”