DACA recipients in NYC nervously celebrate 10th anniversary of immigration program

She was the salutatorian of her high school class, but not even that was enough to get Hina Naveed into college because she was missing the one thing that mattered even more than her exceptional grades — a Social Security number.

The year was 2008, and Naveed was an undocumented immigrant. It was not until several years later, in 2012, when a presidential executive order established deportation protection for undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children, was Naveed able to go to college and pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.

The protection program was called DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — and as the policy reaches its first 10th anniversary on Wednesday, immigration advocates say they have mixed feelings about its legacy and its future.

“There have been promises made that have not been kept, by both parties,” said Naveed, who came to the US as a 10-year-old with her family from the United Arab Emirates in search of medical treatment for her sister who was suffering from a life-threatening brain condition.

“This state of being in limbo has gone on for such a long time despite there being this support.”

DACA, which was launched by the Obama administration, got plenty of attention in 2017 under President Donald Trump, who tried to rescind the program during prolonged budget negotiations.

Trump tied the measure to a border war proposal that stymied negotiations for weeks. His efforts were eventually thwarted in 2020 when the US Supreme Court upheld the DACA initiative in a narrow 5-4 ruling.

Despite the win, DACA supporters remain on edge, especially with the court’s conservative shift. Many DACA recipients worry that they can still be deported at any moment and be separated from their loved ones without so much as a warning.

“At any moment for hundreds of thousands of individuals, they’re always living in fear that the federal court could lift them away from their families,” said Theodore Moore, vice president of policy at the New York Immigration Coalition.

Moore points out that the nation has gotten so used to the acronym that the first word of the title is “deferred,” as in temporary.

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“That is the key word,” Moore said. “It’s a Band-Aid on something that seriously needs surgery.”

What is needed, Moore said, is a pathway to citizenship. But like many things in Congress these days, like voting rights and infrastructure initiatives, lawmakers have been unable to enact legislation without a supermajority in the Senate.

So, DACA recipients like Naveed must reapply for the program every two years and hope they don’t get kicked out.

“I’ve been planning my life in two-year increments,” said Naveed, who went on to become a nurse before shifting to study law. “As much as I want to be able to plan for a long, long future, it’s hard to do that. I have to keep my eyes on the political winds all the time.”

Diana Rodriguez knows that struggle. Even something as simple as travel within the US can become an adventure for an undocumented resident.

In January, Rodriguez, a DACA recipient from Queens, was stranded in Chicago with her family after a powerful winter storm changed their travel plans. They had taken the train, and the only way back to New York City was through Buffalo and Rochester, which they knew would be crawling with border agents. She didn’t want to take the chance of being detained and deported.

“The only thing I have from Mexico is my birth certificate,” said Rodriguez, whose three siblings were born in the US “Growing up, my parents raised me and all my siblings with an American way of living. I do believe America is my home. I’ve been here for 22 years. But it feels like I don’t deserve to be an American citizen. I do. And so do so many families. We’ve been on the front lines.”

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