WORTHINGTON — A historic Thursday ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is cause for celebration among area immigrants.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was created in 2012 to protect from deportation undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents before the age of 16. In order to qualify for the program, individuals must have at least a high school diploma and maintain a clean criminal record. They are required to re-apply every two years. DACA recipients are allowed to remain in the United States and obtain work authorization, but there is no path for them to become citizens.
When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, "the administration tried to eliminate the whole program," immigration attorney Erin Schutte Wadzinski explained. This would mean that no new DACA applications would be accepted, and those already on the program wouldn't be able to renew their status at the end of their two years.
Courts challenged this attempt, and required DACA renewals to continue while a ruling was made on the case. In the meantime, though, no new DACA applications have been reviewed for more than three years.
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision Thursday, ruled that the U.S. must continue to renew DACA status, on the grounds that the Trump administration hadn't provided a reasonable explanation for eliminating the program.
"Basically, it (the ruling) upholds the status quo," Schutte Wadzinski said.
While current DACA recipients are relieved that they will able to continue renewing their status, there's no word yet on whether the government will resume review of new applications. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — an arm of the Department of Homeland Security — will need to release information about how it intends to interpret the Supreme Court ruling, Schutte Wadzinski explained.
"We are happy about the decision," said Raquel Avila Padilla, a DACA recipient who came from Mexico to the United States when she was 14. "We are grateful for the opportunity to work and provide for our families."
Thursday's ruling means she will be able to renew her DACA status and keep her job with UFCW Local 663, where she works as office coordinator.
Critics of the DACA program, Avila Padilla noted, commonly question whether DACA recipients are "'the good ones'" — an implication by accusers that some undocumented immigrants are a drain on society.
"I just want people to know that in order for us to become DACA recipients, we have to go through a process," she said, emphasizing that DACA recipients are educated and do not have criminal records.
"We just want to stay here and contribute to society in a positive way," Avila Padilla said.
Schutte Wadzinski added that the Worthington community relies on DACA recipients, as they include nurses, business owners and teachers in the area. Without these community members, the whole region would suffer.
The bottom line, Schutte Wadzinski said, is that "these are Americans. The U.S. is their home."