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DREAMER STORY

Hugo
Waiting on the Supreme Court

DREAMER STORY

Hugo
Waiting on the Supreme Court

Two years ago, on September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration announced plans to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. A series of decisions from federal and appellate courts put these actions on hold and allowed DACA to continue on a temporary basis, but now the Trump Administration is asking the Supreme Court to take steps to end DACA. Since 2012, the DACA program has protected more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. A decision siding with the Administration could strip DACA recipients of their protections and put them at risk of deportation. The Supreme Court will soon hear arguments to overrule the lower court opinions, and as early as this spring, DACA could be gone. No federal court has found DACA to be unconstitutional, and numerous decisions have struck down efforts to terminate the program. Nationwide injunctions have allowed renewals to continue. However, as they wait for a permanent legislative solution from Congress, DACA recipients continue to live under the threat of losing their protections.

Hugo came to the U.S. when he was 10 years old, joining his parents and his brother, who were already living in Colorado. He is a DACA recipient, brother, son and first-generation immigrant from El Salvador. With a work authorization through DACA, Hugo was able to keep a part-time job as he earned his bachelor’s degree. Since graduating, he has started a career in accounting at a local technology company, and currently lives with his family near Denver, Colorado.

Not long after Hugo graduated high school, the DACA program came into existence, offering him and thousands of other undocumented youth the opportunity to work and go to school in the U.S. This was a turning point in Hugo’s life, but it came at a difficult time for him and his family. “My junior year of high school, my dad passed away. A lot of responsibilities came my way, and things took a different turn. I was still affected by my dad’s loss when I started college as an undoucmented student. But forces took a toll on me, so I decided to pause college. Surprisingly, that summer [of 2012] DACA came into existence. Before then, I was paying out-of-state tuition, and my mom was making sacrifices and a half to pay that tuition. Thankfully, my dad had life insurance, and that helped with satisfying some of the tuition. I had decided to stop going to school because my mom just couldn’t do it anymore, but once DACA came along, my objective was to get back into the full motion of working and studying. DACA gave me that extra push that I needed, in order to help meet those expectations. [When] I became a DACA recipient, my life changed. I started working legally. I felt like I had a name, and a lot of doors opened.”

Hugo’s father had decided to move the family to the U.S. because of safety concerns, and the lack of economic opportunities in El Salvador. The rest of the family is protected by TPS, or Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a temporary designation benefitting immigrants from countries that have been destabilized by armed conflict, violence, or environmental disasters. “From what I remember, my dad had seen a decline in his income. His company wasn’t doing well in El Salvador. He was a salesman and those opportunities were slowly decreasing for him. He’d been in the U.S. before, fleeing persecution from the civil war in El Salvador in the 1980’s. He was involved with some leftist school group, and the military started watching and following him home. My grandpa got scared and thought, ‘he needs to get out of here’. And then my dad decided to come over to Denver, we had family out here. Everything kind of fell into place after that. TPS was something my family wasn’t even anticipating, but it has changed their lives.”

The Trump Administration announced plans to curtail the TPS program to several countries in 2018, including El Salvador. Nearly 200,000 Salvadorans in the United States are covered by TPS, including Hugo’s family. The Administration has taken repeated steps to repeal the DACA program, as well, which could impact Hugo. The pending legislative changes, legal cases, and varying termination dates have been stressful for Hugo and his family. “When I was undocumented, it [added] stress. But now, because of the DACA blessing, being an immigrant in the United States is a wonderful story. It’s created opportunities. I’m part of that quintessential American story. This is a nation of immigrants, and I just happen to be a late 20th century immigrant, as opposed to the early 1900s. You try to find beauty in the struggle, because it’s been a deep and robust struggle. I live in the greatest country, and I try to be a productive member of my community. Having the immigrant tag is more of a pride thing, now.”

Over the years, Hugo has found ways to cope with the uncertainty of U.S. immigration policies. He and his family try to stay focused on the present, with the hope that lawmakers will find a more permanent solution for both DACA and TPS. “That idea of not belonging, of not deserving to be here, and needing to have fake documentation to work. It was bad for me, and for my mom and my dad, for my brother. It takes a toll. It stresses you out. The mental health aspect impacts you. You don’t know if you’ll wake up next week and TPS is eliminated for sure, [if] DACA is eliminated for sure. It plays with your mind a bit. It’s affected us quite a lot. I think now, though, our attitude is ‘what else is new.’ We’re slowly starting to conform and understand; what’s out of our control is out of our control. There’s nothing we can do but try to focus on the controllables, the day-to-day, the present, the problems we have right here and right now that we can influence and respond to. We definitely [didn’t use to have] that maturity or that mindfulness. [In September 2017], when the news came down about DACA, that they were going to end it, of course it hits you. But I was so much more prepared to handle it, knowing that it was simply out of my control. Whether it’s good or bad, you just can’t worry about it too much.”