'It Was A Relief': DACA Students Find Hope In Supreme Court Ruling

Gaby Platinco, a recent high school graduate, was ready for the worst this morning but was surprised and overjoyed to hear that she will be able to become a DACA recipient. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

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The Supreme Court decision to uphold the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protects thousands of California college students from deportation and allows them to continue living and working legally in the U.S.

One of them is 21-year-old Adan Arguelles, who's studying film production at Pasadena City College.

"I'm feeling really, really refreshed," Arguelles said. He found out about the court's decision around 7 a.m. Thursday, soon after the court's decision was announced. "You're in that period where you're in between waking up and sleeping, so whatever you see feels like dreamlike."

Adan Arguelles, 21, woke up on June 18 to the news that the Supreme Court denied the Trump Administration's move to end DACA. (Courtesy Adan Arguelles)

The court's decision had particular resonance for students and educators in California, which is home to about 200,000 of the 800,000 DACA recipients nationwide. That's more than any other state. Accordingly, California has also been a focal point of efforts to fight the Trump administration's efforts to end the program, most notably a lawsuit filed by the University of California system, which was the first university system to challenge the effort in court.

UC leaders celebrated the Supreme Court decision today.

"Although the battle to provide a permanent status for DACA participants continues, and much sacrifice and struggle remains, today we join the entire UC community and all DACA recipients to celebrate this day of justice," UC Regents chair John A. Pérez said in a statement.

California also fought back against the repeal attempt with a lawsuit of its own and by passing state legislation like AB 540, which allows students like young immigrants like Arguelles — who migrated to California with his parents from Tijuana when he was 6 years old — to pay in-state rates for college tuition and be eligible for some financial aid.

Pasadena City College enrolled 964 non-resident students this school year, which includes those with DACA.

"My number one goal is to, you know, find something I'm good at... a place where I'm able to grow," Arguelles said.

'IT FELT LIKE A BUNCH OF WEIGHT LIFTED OFF MY SHOULDERS'

Cesar, 27, studies English Education at Cal Poly Pomona.

There are an estimated 9,800 non-resident students in the California State University system, including DACA recipients like 27-year-old Cesar. With his immigration status still in doubt — the Supreme Court decision did not settle that — he asked that we withhold his full name.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Cesar regularly drove about 40 minutes from Koreatown to study English Education at Cal Poly Pomona.

"It was a relief. First, it felt like a bunch of weight just lifted off my shoulders," he said. "But at the same time, it just reminded me of how other people's decisions affect how my life can be in the future."

First it was his parents' decision to leave their home in Santa Ana, El Salvador. A few years later, Cesar, then 10, crossed the border to join them in Los Angeles with his younger brother.

Then it was the Trump Administration's 2017 effort to end DACA, a 2012 Obama Administration initiative.

"When you're undocumented, there's only a small pool of options you have for job," Cesar said. "A lot of the time for these jobs you get exploited because they know that they can take advantage (of you)."

With DACA, he was able to switch from being paid under the table to wash dishes to working on campus.


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DACA does not provide a path to citizenship, and the recipients pay hundreds of dollars to renew their status every two years.

"We don't have a legal status, but we don't have an illegal status as well," Cesar said. "We're just in this limbo state."

For now he's not at risk of deportation and plans to complete his degree in May 2021, then pursue a Ph.D and compile an anthology of undocumented immigrants' stories.

He says DACA makes it easier, but the goal is U.S. citizenship for himself and more stability for other undocumented immigrants.

"It's an opportunity to be able to feel like you belong in the community that you've grown up in," Cesar said.

A CELEBRATION AND A WAKE-UP CALL

Educators throughout California celebrated the Supreme Court's Decision and called for further action to protect immigrant students.

"While this decision is an important victory, it does not protect the program from further challenge, nor does it provide a permanent solution to allow our Dreamers to achieve their aspirational goals," said California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White in a statement.

Leticia Bustamante works at UCLA's Dream Resource Center and now coordinates the summer program she once participated in as a student. (Courtesy Leticia Bustamante)

The California Community Colleges Chancellor, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles County Office of Education also issued statements of support for undocumented students.

On Thursday morning, UCLA's Dream Resource Center had already started to receive questions about what the Supreme Court's decision would mean for current recipients and those who were shut out of the program when the Trump administration ordered it rescinded in 2017. Their futures were put on hold while the order was challenged over nearly three years of court battles.

A Migration Policy Institute study found 100,000 undocumented students graduate from high school each year.

"Now, if they were to have this access to DACA, they could enter adulthood in a more 'normal' way," said Leticia Bustamante, a project coordinator at the center who also has DACA. She said Thursday's decision was both a cause for celebration and a wake-up call.

"Our struggle is related to so many other struggles," Bustamante said, referring to the recent protests over racial injustice and police brutality. "We can't be free until everybody is free."

KPCC + LAist community engagement intern Nubia Perez and engagement producer Stefanie Ritoper contributed to this story.

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