Teacher with DACA status says family's lives 'on hold' after DAPA ruling

Representatives of faith-based groups gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on April 18 as the justices hear oral arguments in a challenge by several states to President Barack Obama's deferred deportation programs. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Yara Hidalgo, a 26-year-old living in San Jose, California, was disappointed, but not completely surprised, when the Supreme Court blocked the Obama administration's plan to temporarily protect more than 4 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation.

Hidalgo, who was born in Mexico and brought to the United States by her parents when she was almost 2, has been teaching at a Catholic school for the past few years while studying for her master's degree at Santa Clara University.

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She was able to work through the original Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a program set up in 2012 that allows some immigrants who entered the country illegally before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation.

"DACA has opened so many doors for me," Hidalgo told Catholic News Service on June 30. Last year, the White House honored her and eight other teachers who have DACA status as part of its Champions of Change programs.

The program that has helped her will not be affected by the Supreme Court's June 23 ruling—which will block the president's 2014 executive action to expand DACA—but the court's decision could impact her parents because it blocks the administration's Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, known as DAPA.

Hidalgo's mother has been on a waiting list for 13 years to get legal status through her sister's sponsorship. Her father does not see a realistic path to becoming a U.S. citizen. Both her parents would likely benefit from DAPA. Now, if either is deported, she would need to care for her four younger siblings.

Hidalgo said her mom was disappointed with the court's ruling. After the court heard oral arguments for the case in April, her mother kept asking her what she thought the court would decide.

The schoolteacher, who has been in a training program teaching middle-school math and Spanish at Sacred Heart Nativity School in San Jose, tried to help her mom be hopeful. But she also can't help but be worried for her parents, who are in their 40s and who have worked manual labor jobs for the past two decades — which is taking its toll. She said she wanted to stay positive for both of them, "but with so much hatred going on," it's hard.

Hatred against immigrants has always been there, she said, but "it's louder now and more blunt."

When she asks her mom if she would like to go back to Mexico when she retires, her mother has told her: "No, we've made a life here. This is where I feel we're meant to be."

And Hidalgo, who is about to start a new job teaching seventh-grade math at a San Jose charter school, also doesn't want to return to Mexico.

"This is where my family and my community is; my identity has been created here," she said. "I would love to visit my family but this is my home."

And in the meantime, while waiting to see what impact the court's decision will have on her parents, she said: "Our lives are on hold now."

She does what she can to encourage people she knows to apply for citizenship and vote.

"All they see is so much negativity, they ask: 'Does my vote even matter?'" Her response is it does.

She also counts herself as part of the solution. "We have to do something about our broken immigration system," she said. "We've come a long way, but we still have lot more to go."

Hidalgo tries not to get too discouraged and said she holds onto hope that the situation will improve for her parents and so many others who are not U.S. citizens.

She also clings to her Catholic faith, which has always been part of her.

"I'm very spiritual and faith driven," she said, which enables her to do two seemingly opposite things: "stay grounded and move forward."

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