EVERETT — Sergio Barrera of Everett took a deep breath Thursday and relaxed.
He hadn’t done that, he said, since 2017, when President Donald Trump ordered an end to a federal program allowing young people who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children to remain in the country.
As one of those young people — he was 5 when brought into the U.S. — he knew if the president succeeded in eliminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, he could face deportation. Barrera has shouldered that fear pretty much every day since.
Until Thursday, when a divided U.S. Supreme Court blocked the president from wiping out the program.
“It was like a ton of weight was lifted off my shoulders,” said Barrera, now 25 and working as teen director at the Everett YMCA. “A lot of us were expecting DACA to end. We were bracing for that.”
Wednesday was a “tough night,” Ricardo Heredia of Lake Stevens said. He and thousands of other DACA recipients across the state were anticipating the ruling.
He was 6 months old when his family migrated to the U.S. from Mexico. Heredia is now married, a father, a program director at the Mukilteo YMCA and in the process of seeking citizenship. He’ll turn 30 in July.
He qualified for DACA in 2012, the program’s first year, and it has opened doors to community college, a degree at UW Bothell and a job.
“It was a complete game-changer,” Heredia said. “Everything I do is based on this permit.”
The court decision is a “small victory” that provides “peace of mind,” he said.
“Even though it is in our favor, it’s not permanent,” Heredia said. “If the election changes the president, maybe we can find a permanent solution.”
When Lillian Ortiz-Self learned of the decision early Thursday, she said she began recalling the stories she’s heard from countless young immigrants through her work as a counselor in Everett public schools and as an elected member of the state House of Representatives.
“This is the only country they know. This is where their dreams are,” said Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo. “For one moment in time, justice beats out hate. We sure need it right now.”
The DACA program protects from deportation certain individuals brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Those who qualify, known as “Dreamers,” can work legally, attend college and obtain financial aid if they meet certain requirements. They receive permits which can be renewed every two years.
After the Trump administration moved to shut it down, several states, including Washington, sued to prevent it.
“President Trump’s effort to abandon thousands of Dreamers was both cruel and unlawful. Today, our nation’s highest court agreed,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “Dreamers make our communities better and stronger places to live. Thanks to today’s decision, they can continue to live and work in what is for many of them the only home they’ve ever known.”
The Supreme Court not only kept the program intact but its ruling allows for new applicants.
Everett Community College President Daria Willis called the decision “very good news” in a letter shared with the campus community.
“Today is a day to celebrate. More than 700,000 young immigrants, also known as Dreamers, who came to the United States as children are able to stay and renew their work permits,” she wrote.
For Sara Boyle, director of Connect Casino Road, the favorable ruling is an opportunity for a broader conversation on immigrant rights. The community collaborative works to improve the lives of Casino Road families, and clients include undocumented immigrants and DACA recipients.
“In the midst of so many in our country fighting for the rights and sanctity of black lives, it was a surprising yet happy moment to read about this victory for our Dreamers,” she said. “It’s crucial to also keep in mind how much more there is to fight for. I hope that this win will motivate us all to continue advocating for immigrant rights alongside the rights of black and indigenous folks.”
Dreamers and their allies know the decision is a reprieve not an end to the debate.
Everett Community College made a concerted effort to keep students in the DACA program informed of what was occurring each step of the way since 2017.
In recent months, officials encouraged them to renew their DACA permits, with the idea that if the court tossed the program, the students would not face deportation at least until their permit expired.
“It was unthinkable but it was in the air,” said Dafne Powell, program manager for undocumented and Latino students.
“We won a battle, not necessarily the war. For now we are good,” she said. “If the same administration wins (in November), we’re pretty sure there will be a round two.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @dospueblos.