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DACA and Florida 'Dreamers' face uncertain future after federal court ruling

'It’s just created so much fear,' DACA recipient Maria Tinoco says
Posted at 6:03 PM, Sep 14, 2023

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — With the nation's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program now facing an uncertain future, Florida "Dreamers" say they're feeling the same.

The DACA program prevents the deportation of hundreds of thousands of undocumented brought to the U.S. as children.

President Barack Obama created the policy in 2012 through his executive powers, which are at the heart of DACA's new legal trouble.

A federal judge in Texas declared the program illegal on Wednesday, suggesting former President Barack Obama overstepped his authority. The judge believed DACA's creation would need to come from the legislative branch of government.

As a result, the decision not only prevents new "Dreamers" from registering but sets in motion a court battle that could put DACA before the U.S. Supreme Court and a conservative-leaning panel of justices. It has many who support the program fearful that a complete repeal might be in the cards.

Maria Tinoco, 24, is among the more than 22,000 DACA recipients in Florida. On Thursday she was anxious over what might happen next.

"I feel like just that uncertainly," the Miami resident said. "It's just created so much fear."

Like many of Florida's "Dreamers," Tinoco could be adversely impacted if DACA disappears — that's despite living in America since she was 3 years old.

"Without it, I wouldn't be able to work here anymore," Tinoco said. "I wouldn't be able to drive. I wouldn't be able to go to school. I wouldn't be able to just do all these basic like, all these basic things that you know most people take for granted."

Florida migrants are already frustrated with a slate of new laws from the GOP-controlled Legislature and governor's office that crackdown on illegal immigration, many calling the policies cruel and overly harsh.

The new laws include that controversial migrant relocation program, which started one year ago Thursday. In September 2022, the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis relocated dozens of migrants to Martha's Vineyard, leaving the migrants on the Massachusetts island with no warning.

"We're not a sanctuary state," DeSantis said a day after the first flights. "We don't have benefits or any of that. There are some sanctuary jurisdictions and that would be better. What would be the best is for [President Joe] Biden to do his damn job and secure the border."

DeSantis has made immigration reform a major plank in his run for the White House. The Republican candidate vowed to build a wall along the southern border and use deadly force against those running drugs.

"If they're bringing fentanyl into our country, we're going to leave them stone-cold dead at the border," DeSantis told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Wednesday. "Trust me, they'll get the message."

All of this tough talk and DACA's possible departure could be detrimental to Florida's workforce, migrant advocates warn. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida has about 800,000 undocumented people living in the Sunshine State. Officials estimate they make up more than 5% of the labor force.

Immigration attorney Renata Castro warned if Florida doesn't change course, everyone will suffer.

"Republican and Democrat business owners all over the state of Florida are feeling the crunch of an already critical labor shortage," Castro, who works with the Castro Legal Group, said. "Business owners throughout the state are feeling the pinch. Guess who's going to end up paying for this increased cost to secure employees? It's the end consumer."

For Tinoco, the math is much simpler. She just wants to contribute to the place she calls home.

"We are just kids, you know?" she said. "[We are] just trying to pursue and achieve those dreams."