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Living in limbo: Dozens of Houston 'dreamers' head to New Orleans for DACA hearing

They boarded a bus for the six-hour journey and arrived at the federal courthouse in New Orleans around 2 a.m. Wednesday.

NEW ORLEANS — The immigration program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, will be up for debate before a federal court of appeals in New Orleans today.

A group of Houstonians boarded a bus last night for the six-hour journey to New Orleans. They arrived at the federal courthouse there at 2 a.m. even though the hearing isn't scheduled to start until 9 a.m.

They say it's important that people see how many lives depend on this federal court decision. 

DACA is an Obama-era program that's been in place for a decade that allows undocumented youth, or "Dreamers," to have temporary permission to stay in the U.S. if they meet certain qualifications.

Last year, a federal judge in Texas ruled the program was is illegal

President Joe Biden and his team appealed this ruling, which is why oral arguments are happening Wednesday morning.

For the "Dreamers" left in limbo by that ruling, the outcome of this hearing is everything.

"Because I don't have DACA even though I qualify, I haven't been able to get a drivers license. I can't get a job," Yolanda Batz told our sister station in New Orleans. "At any point in time, I could be deported. Life is in limbo."

RELATED: A decade of DACA: Immigrants continue to fight for citizenship as future of program remains uncertain

Naomi Rios lives and works in North Texas. She has been a DACA recipient, also known as a “Dreamer," for nine out of the last 10 years. Rios was 15 when she first applied and was accepted by the program. She and her family came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was two years old.

"I wish more people were more open to understanding our story and why we deserve to be here," Rios said.

Rios is currently employed as the crime victim's program case manager at the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, which is a 21-year-old organization that provides free social services for immigrant survivors of human rights abuses. This includes:

  • Asylum-seekers fleeing persecution based on religion, race, ethnicity, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group
  • Those protected under the Violence Against Women Act, the Victims of Trafficking and the Violence Protection Act
  • Immigrants abused by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (Green Card holder) spouse
  • Immigrant children who are victims of violent crimes, neglect, abuse or abandonment

To qualify for DACA, individuals must meet the following criteria:

  • Are under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012
  • Came to the U.S. while under the age of 16
  • Have continuously resided in the U.S. from June 15, 2007, to the present
  • Entered the U.S. without inspection or fell out of lawful visa status before June 15, 2012
  • Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making the request for consideration of deferred action with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or armed forces
  • Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors of any kind
  • Do not pose a threat to national security or public safety

Rios said one of the main misconceptions people have about Dreamers is that they don't pay taxes. DACA recipients pay about $6.2 billion in federal taxes and $3.3 billion in state and local taxes each year, according to the nonpartisan policy institute The Center for American Progress.

"I don't really feel angry," Rios said. "I just feel disappointed that people follow that kind of rhetoric."

Working in the crime victim's program for the Human Rights Initiative, Rios said she meets with clients one-on-one and deals with a lot of women who are victims of domestic violence. Many of the people Rios works with are from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

"All of our clients have a lot of different types of needs," Rios said. "We have unfortunate stories. A lot of my clients come from their home countries with trauma and crime to the U.S. to seek a safe life."

Rios is one of the 101,000 DACA recipients currently living in Texas, according to the nonprofit immigration advocacy group FWD.us. This is the second-most in the country behind California.

The average age of these recipients in Texas is 29 while the average amount of time spent in the U.S. is 23 years.

In July 2021, a federal judge in Texas ruled that the program  because its creation "violated, and its continued existence violates, the procedural and substantive aspects of the Administration Procedure Act (APA)."

Bill Holston is the executive director at the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas. He said he expects this case to end up in the Supreme Court.

"I don't know that lawyers ever say 100% as to anything, but it's really close to 100%," Holston said.

Both Holston and Rios said DACA is only a temporary fix to the much larger immigration issue that is in need of reform.

"We shouldn't be having to rely on DACA for individuals who have been here since the age of two and are working and teaching school and practicing the law and practicing medicine," Holston said. "We shouldn't be relying on this sort of bandaid of DACA for them to have status in the United States."

"We want a permanent solution," Rios said. "A pathway to citizenship. We deserve it for several reasons, including us being a part of the community. I think there needs to be comprehensive immigration reform. I think that's the better answer for the long run. It really needs to expand. It's long overdue."

Rios said she went to school for social work and loves the people she gets to work with for her job. She also said she's been stressed about Thursday's hearing and what that could mean for her livelihood.

"Our clients are humble," Rios said. "Our clients are very resilient. They're strong. Even though they've suffered or they've experienced several traumatic experiences, they do their best to keep moving forward. If DACA were to be removed or ended, it's possible that I could lose my employment here at HRI."

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