One year ago today, President Donald Trump ordered the phaseout of DACA, an administrative program that provides deportation relief for over 800,000 DREAMers. Yet thanks to a surprise ruling from a Texas federal court, these 800,000+ DREAMers are still protected… But it’s unclear how much longer that will last.
How have Nevada’s immigrant communities survived the past year, and what might we expect in the year ahead? We speak with an immigration attorney and a local DREAMer about (what was supposed to be) the year without DACA.
What happened last Friday, and why does it matter (or not)?
Considering his track record, legal experts expected Judge Andrew Hanen to rule against the continuation of DACA. Indeed, Hanen himself hinted such in his Texas federal courtroom last week. However, Hanen declined to approve the request of eight states to shut down DACA immediately as they sue to terminate the program.
This surprise means DREAMers who are currently enrolled in the program will still have some sort of protection… For now. But if/when Hanen ultimately rules to invalidate DACA, the U.S. Supreme Court will have the final say on whether any DREAMers will receive any further protection under DACA. Amidst this challenging and confusing environment, local DREAMers continue to fight for the right to stay in this country they call home.
“I can’t continue living like this and hoping for change. I have to be the change.”
– Jazmin Cortez, Las Vegas
One of these DREAMers is Jazmin Cortez. She shared with me how she felt the day after Donald Trump’s election victory: “It brought out a lot of sadness.” She continued, “Going to school the next day, it was scary for a lot of students. It was quiet, like the light was sucked out of every place.”
But as she was finishing high school, Jazmin Cortez had an epiphany: “I can’t continue living like this and hoping for change. I have to be the change. That sadness became passion, and that passion fueled the fire within me.”
She’s since become a dedicated activist, and she’s hoping others do the same: “You have be that person to take the first step to open the door for thousands and thousands of DREAMers.” She then added, “You have to make sure [diverse communities] have a seat at the table, that their voices of heard.”
“DREAMers are part of the Nevada family, and I promise to fight for you.”
– State Senator Aaron Ford (D)
Cortez’s voice was heard today at the Nevada State Democratic Party’s press event at its East Las Vegas field office, alongside those of fellow DREAMer activist Maria Nieto Orta, State Senator and Attorney General candidate Aaron Ford (D-Spring Valley), and Assembly Member Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas).
After Cortez and Nieto Orta spoke, Ford rose to speak of the bigger picture of DACA’s impact in our state: “In Nevada, approximately 13,000 residents are covered by DACA. […] In fact, if all DACA recipients were to be deported, Nevada would lose $600 million in GDP.” He added, “It’s clear that Nevada’s DREAMers are an integral part of our state.
— Andrew Davey (@atdleft) September 5, 2018
Ford then contrasted his support for DREAMers with outgoing Attorney General (and current Gubernatorial candidate) Adam Laxalt (R) and Attorney General candidate Wes Duncan (R), who both support Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies: “We deserve leaders who have the courage to do what’s right and stand up for our state instead of kowtowing to the wishes of the Trump administration. DREAMers are part of the Nevada family, and I promise to fight for you.”
“The reality for these families is that every time they turn on the TV […] it triggers the thought of, ‘Maybe my father has to go.’ It’s a constant daily reminder, and it’s a roller coaster they can’t get off of.”
– Assembly Member Edgar Flores (D)
As an immigration attorney and a state legislator who represents several of the immigrant heavy neighborhoods of East Las Vegas, Edgar Flores is very familiar with this issue. As he describes it, “The reality for these families is that every time they turn on the TV and hear the word ‘repeal’ or ‘dismiss’, every time it triggers the thought of, ‘Maybe my father has to go.’” He continued, “It’s a constant daily reminder, and it’s a roller coaster they can’t get off of.”
Though these undocumented immigrants might feel forced to stay on this emotional roller coaster, Flores pointed out one way Nevada voters can get them off this roller coaster: “Here in Nevada, we have a Senator […] who will sit down the moment Trump tells him to. He will do whatever he’s told. He is a do-nothing, stay quiet individual who’s been an absolute disappointment to this state.”
And he didn’t stop there. Regarding Senator Dean Heller‘s (R) recent attack ads that try to frame Rep. Jacky Rosen’s (D-Henderson) visit to a Texas immigrant detention facility in June as a “publicity stunt”, Flores scoffed, “The worst thing you can say about a candidate is that she was at the border? Is that what you’re going to invest millions of dollars in? It shows how weak your candidate is.”
“We need to make sure we’re seated at the table, and that our voices are heard.”
– Jazmin Cortez
Speaking of publicity stunts, what about the House Republicans’ pro-ICE resolution that Rosen and 17 other Democrats voted for in July? Unlike other local progressives who have criticized Rosen’s vote, Flores stood by Rosen’s vote. According to Flores, “When we talk about this notion that Jacky Rosen is somehow disconnected from the reality, [it’s just plain wrong]. When we talk about comprehensive immigration reform, it means border security. […] It also means being compassionate.”
Though Rosen has a real chance of beating Heller, it’s unlikely Democrats will have enough votes to override a Trump veto. If the federal government continues to target DREAMers and other immigrants for deportation, what can the State of Nevada do to protect folks here? Flores said legislation might be possible next session, but he first recommended dialogue with local law enforcement agencies to make sure that top officials’ assurances that local police are not targeting immigrants for detention and deportation are actually being taken to heart by cops on the beat.
During our conversation with Jazmin Cortez, she revealed that her own brother (who works at McCarran Airport) has been stopped by ICE. “Even that fear of being pulled over by a cop, your heart is racing. Is this going to be the day?”
According to Cortez, the best way to stop this is to elect people who will listen to immigrant communities and base policies on justice rather than fear: “We need to make sure we’re seated at the table, and that our voices are heard.”