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Who They Are: Six DACA Recipients Rejoice Over Court Ruling

(AP) — Six DACA recipients talk about the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said President Donald Trump didn't properly end the program, which then-President Barack Obama created in 2012. Trump attempted to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2017 shortly after being elected on a largely anti-immigrant platform.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was created in 2012 by the administration of then-President Barack Obama. Obama was under pressure by young activists who staged sit-ins at congressional offices and protested outside the White House, seeking legislation that would address their immigration status. Largely known as Dreamers after the D.R.E.AM. Act, the failed legislation that would have granted them a pathway to citizenship, these immigrants were brought to the U.S. as children and had grown up here.

DACA allows them to legally work and shields them from deportation. But it was limited to those who were between 15 and 30 years old, who were attending or graduated from high school and who didn't have a felony criminal record. The fee to apply and renew is nearly $500.

Joella Roberts

Age: 22

Lives: Washington, D.C.

Country of origin: Trinidad and Tobago

Joella Roberts was 4 when she came to the U.S. with her mom and brother in 2001. Her grandmother, who was already living in the states, petitioned to bring them as well, but their applications were delayed because of Sept. 11 and they made the trip anyway. Eventually, Roberts was in the country without permission. She and her family were debating whether she should go back to Trinidad and Tobago and start fresh. An attorney told her about DACA around 2015, and she's had the protection since. "I have like an artificial citizenship," Roberts said. Having DACA allowed her to help her family, as she is the sole provider. She was able to finance a car and have credit.

Like many other DACA recipients, she is politically savvy and determined to use her skills to advocate for others like her. Roberts just graduated from college and is working as a university program coordinator for, a bipartisan group that advocates for criminal justice and immigration reform.

Roberts said she couldn't fall asleep until 4 a.m. Thursday because of anxiety about the pending high court ruling. She jumped out of bed when she heard the news.

"I was like, finally, the Supreme Court is on the right side of justice and history and it's been a really long, torturous couple of months," Roberts said. She said that while she's happy with the decision, there are still other things to fight for, like justice for black Americans killed by police.

Edison Suasnavas

Age: 33

Lives: Saratoga Springs, Utah

Country of origin: Ecuador

Edison Suasnavas would not be able to analyze cancer cells for a living without DACA. He has advanced biology degrees, but until getting protections had worked a low-wage job at a hotel. Now, he's a molecular oncology specialist in a medical lab in Salt Lake City, and he's volunteered to help with coronavirus test diagnosing, although he hasn't been selected yet. Suasnavas is married, has two young children, and owns a home and two cars. He was 12 when he came to the U.S. from Ecuador after an economic crisis there. He moved with his family to Logan, Utah, and was considering moving to Mexico, where his wife is from, before he got DACA protections.

His wife woke him up Thursday to deliver the good news.

"I don't want to sound cocky but right now especially with what's going on, working in a medical lab, it showed that we are essential to keep contributing to the country," Suasnavas said.

Sumbul Siddiqui

Age: 27

Lives: Chicago area

Country of Origin: Pakistan

Growing up in the state of Georgia, Sumbul Siddiqui remembers struggling to find and pay for medical care for her parents — Pakistani immigrants who overstayed visas and didn't have health insurance. That hardship inspired Sumbul, the eldest of four siblings, to pursue a career in medicine. She's a second-year medical student at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and wants to focus on public health. "It helps me connect more to underserved communities," she said. "Understanding the struggle helps me advocate for them more."

Born in Saudi Arabia and brought to the U.S. at 4, Siddiqui has relied on DACA since 2013 to go to school. But she often worries about being separated from her parents and three siblings. One has DACA and two are native-born U.S. citizens.

She's been to Pakistan once. She met her relatives for the first time, but felt like an outsider, speaking Urdu with an accent. "I learned how American I am," she said.

After learning about the Supreme Court ruling, Siddiqui began crying, saying she can now plan to finish her medical training.

"I've had so much anxiety and it feels like something has lifted off my shoulders," she said. "We are finally feeling some relief."

Belen Sisa

Age: 26

Lives: Gilbert, Arizona

Country of origin: Argentina

Born in Buenos Aires, Belen Sisa and her family came to the United States as tourists when she was 6 and overstayed their visas. At the time, Argentina was in the midst of an economic recession.

The family settled in Arizona, where Belen grew up in the Phoenix area.

While majoring in political science and history at Arizona State University, she co-founded the organization Undocumented Students for Education Equity. She also became politically active as a DACA recipient, helping organize student marches and protesting deportations of immigrants.

"I would say that the biggest benefit DACA gave me was a sense of empowerment and control over my future," Sisa said. "The moment DACA was announced it was a catalyst to my involvement in activism and politics that eventually led me to where I am and who I am now. It gave many of us the confidence to fight for more and that is what we are doing now."

Sisa said she was overjoyed by the high court's ruling.

"It's great to know that DACA lives and we can continue our fight," Sisa said. "It is great to have the anxiety over."

Tony Valdovinos

Age: 29

Lives: Phoenix

Country of origin: Mexico

Phoenix political consultant Tony Valdovinos didn't learn he was born in Colima, Mexico, and brought to the U.S. illegally when he was 2 until he tried to join the Marine Corps at 18. He said the family had immigrated to the U.S. because his father was having problems finding work amid slowing economic growth.

Valdovinos became involved in politics and, after working on a local campaign in 2012, an attorney began helping him and some other young immigrants get together all their documents so they could apply for the DACA program. He later served as a campaign manager for Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego when she first ran for City Council.

A local musical group called "Americano!," which played to sold-out audiences earlier this year, was inspired by Valdovinos' life.

After the court ruled on Thursday, Valdovinos said he could better focus on the campaign of Yassamin Ansari, a Phoenix City Council candidate.

"It was such a terrible standoff, waiting for a decision for so long without being able to do anything," Valdovinos said. "Everything we knew could change, so I decided to stay focused on my life and getting our story out to the world. I never wanted to live in fear as an immigrant after our mom brought us here so we wouldn't starve."

Marisol Estrada

Age: 26

Lives: Atlanta

Country of origin: Mexico

One of Marisol Estrada's earliest memories is walking the desert to cross the border when she was 5. A majority of DACA recipients are from Mexico. She wasn't scared at the time, she just did what her parents told her to. But she realizes now it was probably dangerous. Still, Estrada is glad her parents brought her to the U.S., where she is safer and has had greater opportunities.

Estrada was in high school and looking to get her first job when she discovered she didn't have legal status. She started researching universities in Mexico and was thinking of going back when Obama enacted DACA the summer before her senior year of high school.

Because of the program, Estrada was able to graduate from college with a degree in political science in three years and is about to start law school. She hopes to practice immigration law.

Estrada said she had to read the ruling three times before she grasped what it meant. "I couldn't make it past the second page because my palms were shaking," she said.

"It's a big win but at the end of the day there's a lot of people that we will need to fight for," she said, referring to the estimated 11 million people living in the country without permission. "So I'm happy but very cautiously happy."

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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