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With DACA On The Line, Undocumented Immigrants Face Uncertain 'Abyss'

The Alcala family worries about what their future might be now that DACA recipients are in legal limbo.

David Alcala lives every day with the weight of uncertainty pressing down on him while he worries about his immigration status. He was brought to the United States as a kid and has done everything he can to stay in this country legally, applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals back in 2013. But with a recent court ruling challenging DACA, he's indefinitely living in limbo.

"It just gives me anxiety because I don't know. I mainly put myself as the parent and (wonder), what's gonna happen with my kids? What could happen with my kids from a financial point of view to the emotional point of view?" Alcala, 30, said.

In July, a U.S. District Court in Texas challenged the legality of DACA and no new applications are being processed. Renewals are still being accepted but can take nearly six months due to a backlog caused by the pandemic, reports say.

A Better Life

Alcala has two sons: Gabriel is 7 and Daniel is 6. They're both American citizens. His wife, Yesenia Alcala, is also an American citizen and works as a paralegal in Cincinnati. Both his parents are undocumented.

"They wanted a better life for us, for my siblings, and for myself. They also wanted a better life than what we had back in Mexico," he said about their decision to come to the United States.

They'd been living in Michoacán, a state in the southwestern part of the country. But there was little employment opportunities and high crime rates. So first his dad, then his family, came to Cincinnati in 2004. They planned to stay for a few years and then go back to Mexico, but that never happened. Alcala ended up attending Norwood Middle School and Withrow University High School. He then spent a few years working in the service industry where he could get by without having a social security number or work permit.

In 2013, he applied and was deemed eligible for DACA because he met the qualifications of the program: He'd been in the country since at least June 15, 2007, and was less than 30 years old when he applied.

After he received legal documentation to work, he gave the information to his manager at a restaurant and says he was fired on the spot. A new manager wasn't aware of his immigration status previously and unwilling to work with him after finding out.

The firing, however, gave him the opportunity to volunteer with local immigration attorney Deifilia Diaz, who later offered him a job as a receptionist.

But DACA has been on thin ice since it was passed in 2012, facing legal challenges every few years. It was challenged in 2015 and again in 2017 by the Trump Administration. The Supreme Court has, for now, blocked attempts to dissolve DACA but has steered clear of indicating whether DACA is legal.

Lawyer: DACA Is 'A Humanitarian Issue'

Diaz represents mostly undocumented immigrants, primarily people who have been the victim of a crime. She says the most recent court ruling out of Texas will be challenged by the federal government, but the process will take years.

"So what happened there is a group of states sued the federal government," she explained. "And their basis was that when the government, the federal government, decided to implement DACA, they didn't consider all the expenses that the states would have in the implementation of DACA."

The case is making its way through particularly conservative courts in Texas, she says, and will likely make its way to the Supreme Court. But litigation isn't the only way the DACA issue can be addressed.

"If the administration — the current administration — wants to help DACA or the Dreamers, then they will have to take some other ways to implement the DACA regulations — which they say that they are going to be doing — or to push legislation," she said. "Which, they've also been doing, but they have just been stuck in the Senate."

Diaz says DACA is a humanitarian issue for the people brought to this country as children and sometimes have no connection to where they were born.

"They have grown up already dealing with anxiety, dealing with the fear of being removed, being apprehended, arrested. So, now they're facing that they cannot go home, or if they could go home, they don't know the language. They don't know the culture and just continuing with a life here in the United States is not possible because they cannot drive, they cannot obtain a driver's license," she said. "They don't have a social security where they can work ... there is nothing for them. There is just an abyss for them."

During a town hall in Cincinnati last month, President Joe Biden recently said he wants to provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA eligible immigrants.

"Your mommy or dad says, 'I'm going to take you across the Rio Grande and we're illegally going to go into the Untied States,' " he said. "What are you supposed to say? 'Not me. It's against the law?' What could a kid say? What could they do?"

He said a pathway to citizenship is essential for immigrants who were brought to this country as children.

"They should be able to stay in the United States of America," Biden said.

David Alcala says the back-and-forth legal situation is trying, and he deals with depression and uncertainty all the time.

"They're playing like we are just like any toy," he says, "like, 'Hey, let me play with you right now and then slap you around. And then if I need you again, I'll bring you back in.' "

He worries about what he'd say to his young children if his parents were deported or, just as scary, if his legal status to be in the country is revoked.

In the meantime, he's stuck trying to figure out what kind of future to plan for himself and his children.

"Because I, also like my parents, I want to give them a better future," he said. "I want them to grow and have a better life. And thankfully, they're U.S. citizens. And then they don't have to go through this. But I want them to be someone in life."

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.