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Know Your Rights
Subject: COVID-19
Type: Media Coverage

To DACA immigrants, home is here (opinion)

Like many Americans throughout the country, I contracted COVID-19.

Within two weeks of getting sick, I went from jogging regularly to getting winded just getting to the couch, and having to catch my breath walking upstairs. The pneumonia that had developed had gotten pretty bad, and I had to be hospitalized for three days.

Thanks to the dedicated care of the medical staff, I was able to recover.

Within the next few weeks, however, the U.S. Supreme Court could put me in a different type of grave risk. The court is set to decide the fate of the DACA program, which has protected me for years. Should the Supreme Court declare the program unconstitutional, I would stand to lose work authorization and protection from deportation. I could very well be separated from my family.

DACA allowed immigrants like me, who came to the country as children, to work and live without the fear of deportation. For me, losing it would mean that I would no longer be able to provide legal services to working families.

For the hospital and pharmacy staff with the same status, it would mean that they would no longer be able to provide medicine and care for victims of COVID-19.

People with DACA have been at the front lines of the current crisis. Tens of thousands are working in the medical field — within hospitals, as technicians, doctors and nurses, and in pharmacies and in other aspects of the industry.

Sadly, Donald Trump doesn’t seem to care. Ending the DACA program is completely in line with his anti-immigrant policy agenda. From day one, the Trump Administration has targeted us and our families, such as enacting the Muslim Ban, attacking cities and localities that protect immigrants, enacting a so-called “zero tolerance” policy that tore children from their parents’ arms on the border, and dramatically expanding the public charge rule. The Administration’s recent move to stop issuing green cards and prevent immigration is just the latest attack on immigrants.

Given this agenda, the recent revelation that ICE has access to the personal information of DACA applicants — uncovered through litigation by Make the Road New York and Make the Road Connecticut — is all the more disturbing. Since one of the requirements to apply for DACA was that you have no other immigration status, this personal information could easily be used for immigration enforcement upon termination of the program. This despite the explicit promise of the DACA program that the information would not be shared for immigration enforcement purposes.

The risk DACA recipients like me face is not just speculation. In January, the acting head of ICE said that if the Supreme Court ruled with the administration, his agency would proceed to detain and deport us.

A potentially negative DACA decision also could not come at a worse time: Immigrant communities are among the hardest hit by COVID-19 already. A decision that would put 700,000 immigrants at risk of deportation would be catastrophic.

DACA should be preserved and immigrants of all statuses should be included in COVID response efforts by federal and state governments alike. Reaching out to take care of immigrants is in everyone’s interest to flatten the curve. We have seen that an outbreak in any single community doesn’t stay confined to that community. Now, more than ever, we’re all in this together.

Between increasing barriers to testing and treatment for all and seeking to cast out 27,000 DACA recipients from the healthcare field at this critical moment, we see an administration that is dead-set on punishing immigrants who meet our civic responsibilities every day, including those who are at the front lines responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Living at the fault line of immigration policy has filled my life with uncertainty. Still, having come out of the shadows, I know that I will not go back. I will do whatever I can to continue to serve my community and help other immigrants finish their education and achieve their dreams.

For DACA recipients like me, our home is here. And we are here to stay.

(Carlos Vargas is the supervising navigator at Make the Road New York and a co-plaintiff in one