This story was originally published on April 22, 2020 by THE CITY
Even before coronavirus made its way to New York, uprooting millions of lives, Raul Contreras was already living with a tremendous amount of anxiety over his future.
Like thousands of other New Yorkers who came to the United States as children, the 27-year-old may lose the legal protections and benefits granted under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — the fate of which hangs on a Supreme Court decision expected in the coming weeks.
“Whether it’s me wanting to make a career move, or if I’m thinking about renewing my lease or moving in with my girlfriend or taking definitive steps in my future that will ultimately change my trajectory of my life, I have to be cognizant that ‘Hey, there’s this big expiration date over you,’” Contreras said of the possibility of DACA’s end.
And COVID-19, which both of Contreras’ parents are recovering from, has “added another layer of uncertainty.”
But the virus has also created “a shimmer of hope” for DACA to continue, Contreras noted.
That’s because roughly 27,000 DACA recipients across the country, out of 650,000 in all, work on the front lines as health care workers. On Monday the top court agreed to consider a new filing arguing that the Trump administration’s bid to end the “Dreamers” program should be blocked because of the pandemic.
“I think that’s a story that would influence whatever decision the Supreme Court wants to make on DACA,” he said.
DACA Under Attack
In New York, the number of active DACA recipients has dropped in recent years — from 32,900 in September 2017 to 28,560 this December, according to federal immigration data. The declining figures reflect the Trump administration’s push to end DACA, immigration experts say.
While the program is still accepting renewals for those who already have been granted deferred action, and has eased the renewal rules due to the pandemic, it stopped accepting new cases in October 2017.
To be eligible, applicants had to be younger than 16 when they arrived in the U.S., completed high school and not have a criminal history, among other criteria.
The outcome of the Supreme Court ruling could take many different shapes, but for DACA recipients worries of having their life upended have become the norm. Instead, they’re focused on preparing for what comes next.
THE CITY spoke to several DACA recipients about what’s at stake for them, having known no home but New York.
‘You Can’t Go Back’
When the Supreme Court was hearing arguments on DACA in November, Contreras was stressed, so he did what any millennial would do: get a tattoo.
He got the word “valid” inked across his right forearm, a nod to the words “Not Valid for Work” that were stamped on the Social Security card he received shortly after arriving from Chile in 1993 when he was just a few months old.
Tattooed on his left forearm is a line from the Emma Lazarus poem cast into the bronze plaque on the Statue of Liberty: “yearning to breathe free.”
This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.
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