Deya Aldana, who has called New Jersey home for 20 years, will be in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, joining a protest march outside the Supreme Court building as the justices weigh the fate of the Obama-era immigration program known as DACA.
For the 25-year-old who grew up in Perth Amboy, the issue is personal, as she herself is a “Dreamer,” the name given to those who have been allowed to remain in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The high court Tuesday will hear arguments over the validity of the 2017 decision by the Trump administration to cancel the program, subjecting as many as 700,000 immigrants who came to the country as children to the possibility of being deported back to countries that for many are unfamiliar places.
“This is such a pivotal moment in our history, right?” Aldana said Monday as she prepared for the protest, writing “Home Is Here” on a poster. “We’re in a position for the Supreme Court to do the right thing on behalf of immigrant communities.”
DACA was instituted under President Barack Obama in 2012, allowing otherwise undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children to apply for permission to remain on an ongoing basis. The current administration argues it has every legal right to rescind a program created by President Donald Trump’s predecessor. Trump has also said that the threat of eliminating DACA as an administrative program could encourage Democrats in Congress to compromise on immigration reform — comprehensive legislation that would accommodate Dreamers while at the same time deterring illegal crossings at the southern border.
New Jersey is home to 16,500 DACA enrollees, and another 53,000 are eligible under the rules of the program. Dreamers are a vocal political presence at Rutgers University and at the State House in Trenton.
Aldana was 4 when she first arrived in Middlesex County. Her father had come here to find factory work when she was 6 months old. She always knew they were undocumented.
Frustration for fathers and children
“I remember being in the third grade, and we would always talk about what career you wanted, and I told my dad, I was like, ‘When are you going to fix our papers so that I could be a doctor?’” she said. “And of course, the look on my dad’s face, not being about to do anything for us at the time.”
The advocacy group Make the Road NJ is sponsoring the bus trip to Washington, D.C.
“All young people that have DACA or are eligible came here as young children, really know no other country except for the United States, have been studying here, working here, contributing,” said Sara Cullinane, director of the group. “They’re our friends, family, neighbor. It’s so critical that they’re allowed to stay and also that Congress step up and put them on a pathway to citizenship.”
The Supreme Court case isn’t about whether DACA is legal. It’s about procedure. Lower courts have ruled the Trump administration didn’t follow regulations when it decided to end and dismantle the program.
Proponents argue that federal rules require an analysis before a program like DACA can be canceled: How would a DACA phase-out, and potentially deporting nearly three-quarters of a million people, impact society and the economy?
The left-leaning Center for American Progress says phasing out DACA could cost the U.S. economy 30,000 workers a month, and $460 billion over a decade.
For Aldana, the cost would be personal.
“We have to show up,” she said. “We have to show up in large numbers and we have to make sure people remember this moment. Regardless of what happens, I’m sure the history books will talk about it one day.”