The U.S. Supreme Court's decision Thursday to preserve the rights of young undocumented immigrants to live and work in the United States is welcome news for more than 675,000 immigrants nationwide, including 122,000 New Yorkers.
Among them is Eliana Fernández, 32, of Patchogue, one of six plaintiffs in a case filed in New York’s Eastern District arguing that President Donald Trump's effort in September 2017 to rescind DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — was reached unlawfully.
Fernández, a native of Ecuador, waited years for Thursday's high court decision, like many so-called Dreamers — immigrants brought illegally into this country as children. Late last year, she and dozens of other immigrants walked for two weeks from New York City to Washington, D.C., a more than 200-mile trek, to call attention to the case.
“We marched through the rain, sleet and snow to make sure the Supreme Court knew our home is here,” Fernández said Thursday during a Zoom conference with the advocacy group Make the Road New York, where she is an organizer on Long Island.
Fernández has two children, a daughter, 13, and a son, who turns 8 Friday, both born in this country. She said in Spanish during the Zoom conference she was terrified of losing them.
“Before DACA, my major fear was being separated from my children and not being able to work in the country in the way I wanted or realizing many of my dreams. With DACA, I’ve felt protected, it gave me the opportunity to work for Make the Road, help the immigrant community, and achieve one of my biggest dreams, homeownership.”
However, critics of the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision said it sidestepped matters of constitutionality.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts wrote in his majority opinion that the merits of the program were not part of the court's decision. Instead, he said the Trump administration failed to provide sound reasons for ending DACA. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action."
Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors strict immigration policies, said the Supreme Court’s decision was a “copout” and a “punt.” Mehlman said the court had the opportunity to tackle the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s program, and whether a sitting president can rescind a program begun by a predecessor.
“This seems to be a copout on the part of the Supreme Court,” Mehlman said. “Those are important constitutional issues you would expect the Supreme Court to rule on.”
Long Island's top county executives, both Democrats, supported the ruling.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement the decision sent a “powerful message that we are a welcoming nation to immigrants around the world.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement that DACA recipients are hardworking, pay taxes and serve in the military. “I’m glad these young people can now continue to live, work and contribute to the only country they’ve called home for most of their lives.”
Josselin Paz, 23, a DACA recipient who grew up on Long Island, said: “This is an amazing victory. It takes a huge weight off the shoulders of many undocumented immigrants. It’s something that has been weighing over us for a few years now, since the Trump administration came into play. It’s a relief — that’s what it is.”
Paz, an immigrant from El Salvador, entered the country in 2000, she said. Last year, she graduated from SUNY Old Westbury with a bachelor’s degree in industrial and labor relations, and is mulling offers from law schools, she said.
“I don’t know any other country at all. This has always been my home,” Paz said.