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DACA Applicant Comments On Federal Judge Ruling The Program Unconstitutional

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

It's another setback for DREAMers. They are the young undocumented migrants who were brought to the United States as children and were protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA. Last week, a federal judge in Texas ruled that DACA, which began during the Obama administration, was unconstitutional, jeopardizing thousands of new applications for legal status. One of those applicants is Karla Mercado Dorado, a 19-year-old in Virginia, and she joins me now. Welcome to the program.

KARLA MERCADO DORADO: Hi.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Karla, you came to the United States when you were quite young. Can you tell me a little bit about that journey and how you came to this country?

DORADO: So I came to the U.S. when I was 2 years old from Bolivia with both my parents. And I've basically been living here my entire life since then.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I know from talking to other DACA recipients that, you know, not having legal status is really hard, especially when you're going to school. Did you always know that you were undocumented?

DORADO: So I did always know in the back of my mind. There were a lot of limitations that we had growing up. I couldn't travel anywhere. I couldn't get a job when I was finally in high school. But it didn't really hit me until around senior year when I was applying for colleges and trying to figure out how to pay. I still didn't have a license. I still couldn't get a job. And the gravity of what my status meant for me was amplified in that moment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You applied for DACA in December, right?

DORADO: Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is that why finally you just realized that it was something that you needed to do so that you could get that legal status?

DORADO: So I was actually eligible to apply since December of 2016. That was when I turned 15, which was the age that I needed to be to apply for the program. And just a few months later, in September of 2017, was when the program was rescinded. So in that time period between my birthday and September, there was a lot of fear because of the threat that the program would be canceled, which eventually it was, and then also the work that goes into putting the application together, finding all of the paperwork and then finding the money to actually go through with the process. So in between being hesitant and not actually having everything together yet, I didn't get to apply in time and was forced to wait until the new memo came out and was finally able to apply December of 2020.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Have you heard back?

DORADO: I've made it through most of the process, so I've technically heard back. But it hasn't been approved.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, what I'm hearing from you is that you've basically been at the whim of all these memos under the Trump administration, now under the Biden administration and now with this new legal ruling. I mean, what was your reaction when you heard that Judge Andrew Hanen ruled against the DACA program?

DORADO: It was very emotional for me, finding out about the decision. I felt the same way that I did back in 2017 when the program was rescinded by Trump. And I remember just feeling tired, that all of my hard work, once again, would be for nothing - not only just everything that I've been working for in school and all of my life, but even more specifically, all of the work that I put into my application. I remember the stress of, again, trying to find the money, trying to put all the paperwork together, and on top of that, I was doing this during my first semester in college in the middle of a pandemic. I was approaching finals week.

It was just so many things at once and thinking about everything that went into it and how with just one decision, it was all over and I'm back to where I was before, just waiting for another change to hopefully benefit me. But now I'm kind of taking all of the negative parts of that and looking forward, because we are still pressuring Congress. We're still pressuring the government to give us a pathway to citizenship, give us a permanent protection.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: May I ask what you're studying?

DORADO: I'm studying biology on a pre-med track.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Karla Mercado Dorado. Good luck with your studies, and thank you very much.

DORADO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.