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I'm a DACA recipient and this is what will happen to me

شعار Al Jazeera Al Jazeera 06/09/2017
Demonstrators rally against the termination of the DACA programme outside the San Francisco Federal Building in San Francisco, California [Stephen Lam/Reuters] © Provided by Al Jazeera Demonstrators rally against the termination of the DACA programme outside the San Francisco Federal Building in San Francisco, California [Stephen Lam/Reuters]

I fear that I may no longer look forward to a future in the United States, my home and the only country I have ever known. I immigrated to the state of Rhode Island at the age of 10 months, through no choice of my own and I have no recollection of Portugal, my country of birth.

I'm afraid of what will happen now that President Donald Trump and his Attorney General Jeff Session have announced the decision to abandon the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) - an Obama-era executive order allowing me and many other undocumented migrants like me to stay in the country lawfully. 

DACA was implemented in 2012 by the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and currently protects about 800,000 undocumented people. DACA grants a two-year renewable period of work authorisation and a reprieve from deportation by recognising the recipient as a non-priority for removal. Immigrants that are eligible - dubbed the Dreamers - include those who have been present since at least June 2007 and were 16 or younger at the time they entered into the United States. 

READ MORE: What is DACA? A look at rescinded immigrant programme

The vast majority of undocumented immigrants have no viable pathway to citizenship, unless they marry a US citizen, can argue that they are a refugee in need of asylum, or find an employer willing to sponsor them for a green card. This is further complicated by the fact many DACA recipients have accrued unlawful presence or entered without inspection, making it almost impossible to adjust their US residency without undergoing consular processing abroad and being subject to a 10-year ban from entering the country. 

I have been able to openly and lawfully work, study, and contribute to my community ever since I was granted deferred status under DACA three years ago. Prior to this, my family and I had struggled for many years to pursue the American Dream, with no available path to citizenship. In spite of this, I am proud of what we've achieved: iconic American milestones such as purchasing a family car and moving into our own family home.

With the new decision, however, I now risk being forced back into the shadows of undocumented status, unless the US Congress revises the federal immigration law to permanently protect DACA recipients.

Living in the shadows means declining legitimate job offers, as I would be unable to work lawfully. Undocumented people that work "off the books" risk employer exploitation such as wage theft. My father was a victim of this when he first came to the US: he found a job in Maryland soon after arrival, but after two weeks of work, he was laid off without pay and no legal recourse. Like many undocumented people, I fear that I may have to move from job to job, without a sense of knowing where I will be working next week or even whether I will be paid.

The decision to terminate the DACA programme was ostensibly propelled by threats from Texas and eight other states to sue the Trump administration if it did not act to end it by September 5. The attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, intended to amend an existing case before the court, Texas v United States. In 2015, the case resulted in Texas Judge Andrew Hanen issuing an injunction against a similar programme called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). DAPA, although never implemented, would have also granted work permits and would consider recipients as a non-priority for removal. 

READ MORE: US reacts to Trump's move to scrap the DACA programme

Paxton has framed Texas' challenge to DACA by arguing that it represented an unconstitutional abuse of executive authority by the Obama administration. In the brief (PDF), however, Texas concedes that it would be within the authority of the federal government to "issue 'low-priority' identification cards to aliens" affirming precedent previously set by the Supreme Court. In fact, in Arizona v United States (2012), it was ruled that "federal officials ... must decide whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all. If removal proceedings commence, aliens may seek ... discretionary relief allowing them to remain in the country." DACA and DAPA both function by considering a recipient as a non-priority for removal; in essence, this is an exercise of discretionary relief.

The federal circuit court judges were divided on United States v Texas, which also resulted in a 4-4 draw when it was finally heard by the US Supreme Court. Perhaps the only reason Texas was found to stand is due to a dubious claim that issuing driver's licenses to DACA and DAPA recipients would present an unreasonable burden on the state, costing millions of dollars. Texas, of course, is at liberty to decide the cost of issuing its driver's licences. 

READ MORE: Dreamers left 'vulnerable' as Trump scraps DACA

Time and again the courts have ruled that the executive branch of government has broad discretion on immigration, leaving President Trump with no real reason to terminate DACA, except to leave 800,000 other recipients, such as myself, without a place in America.

Congress must finally stand up to protect the Dreamers and pass the DREAM Act, which would first grant conditional residency and, upon meeting further qualifications, permanent residency to people like me.

For far too long, our lives, our hopes, and our dreams have been at the whim of the White House and it is time for this to change.

Rodrigo Pimentel is a 20-year-old DACA recipient and the immigration coordinator for the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats. 

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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