Earlier this month, a federal court ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program must be restored fully, meaning it must open up to new applicants for the first time in three years. On Tuesday, though, the Trump Administration said it would reject new applications and shorten renewal periods for the Obama-era program.
DACA has only been around for a few years, but it has been invaluable for the program's participants looking for higher education and careers in the U.S.
DACA recipient Irving Hernandez came to San Diego when he was 6 years old. At the time, he could not speak English and lived with his grandparents. Still, he managed to graduate high school with honors and earned a college degree at San Diego State University.
"I graduated from San Diego State as an engineer," Hernandez said. "I have years of accomplishments that will not matter to ICE or Border Patrol the day I lose protection."
For the time being, Hernandez is safe under the DACA program. His concern is for the 300,000 other eligible recipients who won't get to apply while the federal government reviews the program.
"To us, losing our DACA protection means being very, very vulnerable to a deportation," Hernandez said.
San Diego is the front line for the Dreamer movement. A group of Dreamers demonstrated downtown when President Donald Trump attempted to dissolve DACA, and they celebrated when the Supreme Court said he couldn't.
Tuesday’s White House announcement appears strategic to civil rights attorney Michelle Celleri.
"They hear news they don't like, and they find a way to circumvent that rule," Celleri said.
Reducing DACA protection from two years to one indicates the administration doesn't want to wait that long to eliminate the program. The prohibition on new applicants serves the same purpose, Celleri said.
“There is a lot of uncertainty right now," Celleri said. "They are scared and looking for answers."
Hernandez isn't giving up on the DACA program but sees a bigger fight right here on the streets of San Diego and other border cities that is capturing his attention.
"We are holding the front line to prevent further abuse, to prevent more powers to be given to those who are undeserving and do not check themselves," Hernandez said.
Because of the pandemic, lawmakers are considering legislation that would extend protections for DACA recipients and those with documentation that is set to expire during the national emergency.