PORTLAND, Maine — Christian never stopped working during the pandemic. As fellow Mainers went on unemployment or worked from home, the construction firm he works for had a steady supply of jobs from the state of Maine and private companies for him and his crew.
As one of the “lucky people able to work and stay busy,” Christian has been grateful. It’s given him something to focus on. The threat of losing the legal status he holds through the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, has been a daily preoccupation.
“At the end of the day, my life was uncertain,” said Christian, who came to the U.S. from El Salvador at the age of 4. “I knew in the back of my mind there was always that possibility. If I didn’t have the right documents or whatever they could arrest me, or I could face deportation.”
A long-simmering challenge by the Trump administration to end the DACA program failed in a 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, preserving the legal status of the roughly 800,000 “Dreamers” living in the country after emigrating to the U.S. in childhood.
The high court decision means that hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients, like Christian, can renew their applications and remain in the country, though it also gave the Trump administration a pathway toward ending the program legally and the president’s homeland security czar said on Friday he will restart the process.
“Just hearing this news today was a big relief for me,” he said on Thursday. “I’ve established my life here and consider myself an American.”
Christian, 23, who asked the BDN not to use his last name or photograph because of the sensitivity of his situation, grew up in Portland and graduated from Deering High School with designs on enlisting in the military, which he abandoned when the Republican president signaled an intention to end the program in 2017.
The federal DACA program is an immigration policy enacted in 2012 allowing undocumented people who were brought to the U.S. as children to apply for deferrals from deportation. Maine, one of the nation’s whitest states, has one of the smallest groups of Dreamers. In 2017, there were 95, according to a spokesman for Attorney General Aaron Frey.
Beth Stickney, an immigration lawyer and executive director of the Maine Business Immigration Coalition, praised the decision, saying it “takes away the specter that’s been hanging over“ recipients who have feared that their status might be rescinded since Trump pushed to end the program in 2017.
Still, Stickney called the move a “temporary reprieve” toward recipients’ end goal of permanent legal status bestowed to them by Congress. The four members of Maine’s congressional delegation support a legislative solution for Dreamers, but a compromise bill co-authored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, failed to pass the Senate in 2018.
“There isn’t anybody with DACA who hasn’t been paying attention to this,” Stickney said. “They’ve been pushing it into the background and trying not to let it overwhelm them. It’s their ability to go to higher education, it’s their ability to work, to make car payments, to pay the mortgage on their family home.”