Una piñata de Donald Trump fue el centro de atención en una conferencia de prensa de 2017 en el Ayuntamiento como respuesta ante el cierre del programa DACA. Foto de Laura Wenus. A Donald Trump piñata was featured at a 2017 press conference at City Hall in response to the ending of DACA. Photo by Laura Wenus

Immigrant rights organizations and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients across San Francisco were celebrating today’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision that allows the DACA program to stay in place — for now.

“I was actually sleeping, and when I woke up I saw messages between my coworkers,” said Maria Fuentes, a 24-year-old DACA recipient. “At first, I was like ‘oh my God, what’s going on’ — I thought there was an emergency or something. But then I saw the news, and that it was a victory for us.”

“I was happy, and I started crying.”

Later that day, Fuentes — who works as a paralegal at CARECEN SF, a nonprofit that provides legal and social services to immigrants —spoke to two other immigrants to help them with their DACA paperwork. One of them hadn’t yet heard the news. “I told her, and she was so happy,” she said.

The DACA program, initiated eight years ago by President Barack Obama, allows undocumented people who arrived in the United States as children to receive two-year work permits and temporarily stave off the possibility of deportation. 

“The word I would use is ‘relief,’” said Vanessa Mejia, a 24-year-old DACA recipient. “We can breathe for a little bit right now.”

Mejia said she woke up this morning to a flood of people who sent links or messages with the news. The pending decision had been weighing on her, she said.

“It was not a specific thing I was fearing — it was just the fear of not knowing what was going to happen,” she said. “Just being uncertain on what was going to happen next in my life if that were to occur.”

Mejia first applied for DACA in 2012, right as the program started.

“It was a complete turn-around in my life, knowing I would be able to work and function like a regular citizen. My friends were going to college, and I was thinking I wouldn’t be able to go because of my status,” Mejia said. “It changed my life, knowing I would be able to go to school and work.”

Today, Mejia is a student at San Francisco State University studying interior design, and works for her father, a general contractor who owns a construction company. He was granted temporary legal status through the TPS program. She has two siblings who are U.S. citizens.

Mejia said she still remembers coming to the U.S. from El Salvador when she was 8.

“It was really hard adjusting to the culture, the food, and — the biggest one — the language,” she said. “I remember crying for the first two years before going to school because it was really hard to communicate with classmates, and even the teacher.”

“Today is a day when everybody’s taking a deep breath, and a little break,” said Lariza Dugan-Cuadra, executive director of CARECEN SF. “Nonetheless, we don’t forget the suffering that was caused by the cancellation of the program, that could have been remedied by the Senate if they had only [taken up] various proposals that had already passed in the House of Representatives.”

Dugan-Cuadra said today’s ruling preserves the status quo, and that DACA continues to be a temporary program. DACA recipients need to renew their application every two years, which costs $495.

Under the Trump administration, the DACA program ceased accepting new applications in 2017, although by court order existing recipients were permitted to apply for renewals.

Luis De Paz Fernandez, the AB 540 Dream Coordinator at San Francisco State University, said it was not immediately clear if today’s ruling would lead the way to the program accepting new applications.

“That’s something I’m still waiting to hear,” he said. “I’m hoping to have more clarity on that tomorrow.”

De Paz Fernandez said the decision shocked him.

“I was not expecting this outcome,” he said. “I was almost like, I don’t know how to be happy. But it was joy. Especially for our students. I was formerly DACA. That definitely resonated with me. I cried for a minute.”

De Paz Fernandez is a permanent resident today, after receiving a green card.

“This is an important decision,” said Olga Talamante, executive director of The Chicana Latina Foundation. “It’s too bad it took a Supreme Court ruling to declare that in fact the current administration does not have the right to suspend DACA.”

“They will of course try again — there’s no doubt about it,” she added. “We have to do everything we can to make a change in November.

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Michael Toren is a reporter in San Francisco. He can be reached at michael.toren@gmail.com

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