As one of the 700,000 immigrant youth with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), I’ve felt anxious for much of the past six months, wondering how the Supreme Court will rule on the program’s fate. Now, as COVID-19 has unleashed a plague on my community and Black and Brown communities face the additional plague of police violence, more than ever I cannot imagine losing DACA and my work permit. In addition to being focused on making sure my family is healthy and safe, I have the responsibility to keep paying not only my rent and expenses, but also to support my family—almost half of my salary goes to helping my family now.
With the spread of the coronavirus across the country and the crisis of police brutality, the lives of eleven million of undocumented immigrants like me are even more uncertain than ever.
First, COVID has hit our families extremely hard. Most people I know have lost loved ones already. And those who have thus far survived the virus are either working on the front lines or struggling economically. My dad and brother work in construction, but because of COVID-19 they stopped working for almost two months, they now work for a few days. While my mother was still working a few days each week cleaning houses, she ended up contracting COVID-19. Luckily she was able to fight the virus. I have been deeply worried about my family’s health, but they have to choose between their well-being and earning money for the house expenses and to support my little siblings.
Every day I hear similar stories when I speak to other immigrants through my work at Make the Road New York, an immigrant rights organization. I have spent most of my time at work since the COVID pandemic began checking in with students and parents to make sure they have the support they need. Students share the problems they are having with their transition from in-person to online classes. Parents share their frustration at losing their job or having to go to work under these circumstances and not knowing how long it will last.
Now, since the police murder of George Floyd, I am also working to support Black and Brown youth who are traumatized not just by what happened in Minneapolis, but in our own communities in New York, where we are inundated by videos of police beating protestors every single day.
Throughout all this time, the federal stimulus is not reaching our community. For many workers across the country who lose their job, expanded unemployment and cash assistance will offer support. But my parents, my brother, my friends and millions of other undocumented workers are left out. Though they pay income taxes, they do not have a Social Security number and won’t get the cash support or Unemployment Insurance, among other forms of government relief.
I think about my family, friends and my community everyday—who is sick and who is not, if they still have a job or not, and what I can do to support them. But it’s hard, because I’m also dealing with the uncertainty of my own future in this country on my own. I don’t live with my family and can’t go visit them because of the risk of contracting the virus. And it’s hard for me to go to the protests, because I’ve seen reports of Immigration and Customs Enforcement being at them. Sometimes, because of the frustration, I cry alone in my room until I fall asleep. I feel like I’m going crazy, and I know I’m not the only one.
While immigrants like me are trying to deal with our lives being altered by the COVID-19 outbreak and trying to find resources for our loved ones, and mourning the police killings of our Black brothers and sisters across this country, those of us with DACA also have to worry about the Supreme Court’s pending decision on the program.
Since 2012, DACA has enabled young immigrants like me, who have spent most of our lives in this country, to remain in this country with work authorization and protection from deportation. The Trump administration acted vindictively to end the program in 2017, putting our futures at risk. Since then, several federal courts have ruled that Trump’s actions were unconstitutional. But now the administration has appealed to the Supreme Court, which has a conservative majority.
Monday mornings, which tend to be the days when the Supreme Court issues opinions, are the most stressful day. I feel the anxiety run through my body. It is hard to breathe and act normal as I get ready for work, as my mind races, wondering if the decision on DACA would come out at 10 am. All I do is check my phone for updates on DACA hoping the decision won’t come that day.
It’s hard to think about my future being in the hands of those judges. It’s hard to express all the conflicting emotions I’m feeling. For example, when USCIS temporarily closed their offices due to COVID-19, I understood the public health reason and that this would protect some people. But it also left me with greater anxiety, because I knew it would leave many DACA recipients uncertain of their renewal. While I was able to renew my DACA last year through 2021, other DACA recipients I know and support have permits that are about to expire. Not only are they dealing with the coronavirus, but also the uncertain future of their work permit.
Before DACA I could not legally get a job. I couldn’t get a state identification or driver’s license. I couldn’t apply to any scholarships. Every day I woke up scared of being detained and deported. With DACA I have been able to work legally, apply for scholarships, and graduate from college. I was even able to study abroad. But most importantly, DACA gave me a peace of mind–that I wouldn’t be torn apart from my family and my community.
If the Supreme Court decides to allow the Trump administration’s rescission of DACA to proceed, it will be heartless and inhumane—and honestly devastating for all 700,000 of us with DACA and our families. Such a decision would be horrifying no matter when it came—but it would be particularly devastating today. Everyone’s lives have been altered by the coronavirus and we still don’t know how this pandemic will play out. Having to imagine leaving the communities we know as our home—and that we’re trying to keep safe—at this moment would be utterly catastrophic.
I’m tired of seeing politicians playing with our lives. I’m tired of the evil that Trump directs at our communities, most recently with his reckless immigration ban and now the attempts to let the police and military use violence against us.
Despite our fears, DACA recipients are on the frontlines combating this pandemic. We are supporting our communities in this time of need, working at hospitals, groceries, warehouses—and helping however we can. Our home is here. The Supreme Court should listen to our stories and reject the administration’s efforts to throw our lives further into limbo.
Zuleima Dominguez is a youth organizer with Make the Road New York, the largest community organization in New York offering direct services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @MaketheRoadNY
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.