RALEIGH, North Carolina (WNCN) – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was a program started during the Obama administration aimed at protecting certain undocumented immigrants. Under DACA, people brought in the United States as children were offered protection from deportation and the ability to legally go to school and work.
President Donald Trump vowed to repeal the program putting thousands of immigrants at risk of deportation.
The matter is now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices will decide by the end of June whether the Trump administration has the authority to put an end to the program.
According to the Center for American Progress, more than 800,000 people are protected under DACA. There are 24,050 recipients in North Carolina.
Jonathan Vargas Andres is one of those so-called “Dreamers”. He was brought to the U.S. at the age of 12. While he graduated from high school, he did not qualify for financial aid because of his legal status. He worked a string of odd jobs – at McDonald’s, a tire shop – to save up for school.
He tried to join the military but couldn’t go that route either because of his legal status barred him from doing so.
When DACA was passed in 2012, he said he never anticipated it could disappear one day.
“It was life changing. It was like I could see a light at the end of the tunnel.”Vargas Andres.
Through a DACA work permit, he’s now a critical care nurse working in the ICU treating COVID-19 patients at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. It’s his way of serving his country.
That could all change in a matter of weeks if the U.S Supreme Court sides with President Trump.
“You’re paying for school out of pocket, you’re working so hard, you overcome so many obstacles just so people who don’t even know how hard you’ve worked to get there can take it away at the strike of a pen,” Andres said.
Complicating the issue of rescinding DACA are the number of recipients working on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Center for American Progress, more than 200,000 DACA-protected immigrants are working on the front lines as essential workers. The center said 29,000 are working in the health field.
“We already have a huge shortage of nurses in this county and to think that when you need nurse the most, because you’re in the middle of a pandemic, there’s the potential of deporting so many health care workers that are there on the front lines helping to save lives – save American lives. To turn around and say ‘you’re not allowed to be here anymore’, it feels like a slap in the face,” Vargas Andres said.
Vargas Andres is married to a U.S. citizen. He is in the process of changing his legal status. It’s an expensive process with no guarantee. His brother is also a nurse. Unfortunately, he said his brother is not married and has no options outside of DACA.
Vargas Andres is working on his bachelor’s degree. When he’s not in the ICU working, he’s at home studying. It’s now a daily ritual to do an internet search for an announcement of a U.S Supreme Court ruling before he does anything else.
Through all this, his patients remain his priority. He said they are isolated and dying alone, only able to say goodbye to their loved ones through an iPad as a result of COVID-19.
“That uncertainty is definitely very haunting but as a professional, you have to leave that outside of work. As soon as you go through those hospital work, you’re there to take care of people, not to drown yourself in your own thought of your problems. You need to be mindful of what you’re doing because these people are very ill and you need to be at 100-percent,” Vargas Andres said.
Vargas Andres wants lawmakers to remember who he calls the ‘original dreamers’. He said lawmakers cannot forget about parents of DACA recipients.
“There should not be any trade off for legalizing DACA recipients and leaving our parents behind.”Vargas Andres
Vargas Andres said if DACA is rescinded and his green card is denied, he is considering moving to Canada. Nursing students in Canada and the U.S take the same certification exams.
Started in 2012, the DACA program was available for people brought to the U.S. under the age of 16 and had no record of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors.