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Amid the Pandemic, DACA Recipients Await a Decision

TAY GLASS, HOST: Did President Trump act lawfully when he put an end to one of President Obama’s immigration policies? WILL WALKEY, HOST: The Supreme Court is expected to announce a decision before the end of this month about Trump’s move to end DACA or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act. DACA granted hundreds of thousands of people brought to the US as children the right to work and study. As Ciara Long reports, the impending decision brings added stress for one DACA recipient and her family in New York City.

CIARA LONG, BYLINE: Like a lot of households during the pandemic, 29 year-old Ru’s family is cooking together. Last month, the whole family watched as Ru’s mother taught her younger cousin how to make Chinese breadsticks. SOUND: [FADE IN] dough hitting the table, speaking in Mandarin [DIP UNDER] LONG: She places the dough in front of him. Ru’s cousin starts poking the dough with the end of the rolling pin. Ru’s mother takes the rolling pin from him, flips it to horizontal, and shows him how to roll the dough out. SOUND: [UP AND FADE OUT slowly] LONG: Ru is a DACA recipient, but we won’t be using her full name because some members of her family are undocumented. When the pandemic hit, Ru’s family lost their jobs, and came to stay with her in New York. RU: So if I count the members of my family, my two younger siblings, my two parents, and my four year old cousin, and his mom, that's six. So it's like, all of a sudden, I have six dependents. LONG: Ru is a hospital administrator, which means right now she’s also an essential worker and can’t work from home. She’s worried about getting the coronavirus, and about spreading it to her family. But she has to keep working to cover her family’s bills. She earns around $2,300 a month after tax, but rent eats up almost two thirds of that… RU: And then the phone bill is roughly 250. And the utilities about 100 internet is about another hundred. So that's… we're looking at… hold on a second… 450... 1950. LONG: Plus food for a family of six, Ru’s Metrocard, and her student loan repayments. Things are tight for Ru — and they could get worse before the end of the month, which is the Supreme Court’s deadline to decide whether President Trump’s attempt to rescind DACA was legal. RU: I wish it doesn't happen. Oh my gosh... [LAUGHS] LONG: How do you feel about that? RU: It really is kind of hard to feel because I don't know what to feel. LONG: The Supreme Court’s impending decision isn’t about whether or not the DACA program is legal in the first place, but whether President Trump’s 2017 attempt to terminate the program was legal. But Juan Escalante, an immigration advocate and DACA recipient, says that if Trump’s actions are upheld, the DACA program is one step closer to being eliminated. JUAN ESCALANTE: Well, the immediate consequences of the program terminating would be, you know, felt at all levels of society, right. You know, particularly you see the potential deportation of 700,000 people. LONG: In 2018, the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs in New York estimated that 150,000 residents across the city benefitted from the program. LONG: What would it mean to you if the Supreme court decided you have to leave? What would you do? RU: As the saying goes, I will work my butt off. LONG: If Ru loses her status, she says her family won’t have any way to pay rent or buy food. Her Plan A is to get sponsored by her employer… And her Plan B… RU: Should that route fail, then I might have to, I don't know, I might have to think about employing my earlier entrepreneurial dreams and skills. I’m not going back to China. And I'm not going to marry someone so that I can have my green card. LONG: Getting married to become a citizen is a suggestion that Ru has heard a lot from well-meaning acquaintances, but she thinks it’s a step too far. Liz OuYang, a civil rights attorney who works with the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, says that New York’s high costs of living make it a hard place for anyone to survive at the best of times. It’s even harder if you’re undocumented, and don’t necessarily have a stable job. LIZ OUYANG: Often the DACA recipient may be the one who is earning money for the family. And during this time of COVID-19 and rampant unemployment, it could add devastation to already a very dire situation. LONG: OuYang says that DACA recipients like Ru are under a lot of psychological pressure right now. But Asian-Americans are facing another pressure, too. OUYANG: Persons of Asian descent right now, US citizens who are Asian descent, lawful permanent residents and undocumented have to fear not only getting COVID-19 but also being attacked. LONG: In early March, before New York’s lockdown, Ru was taking the subway to church. RU: My features are quite Asian — my black hair, my brown eyes… LONG: She took a seat next to a stranger. RU: The minute I sat down, she caught up like she shut like she just shot up off her seat. she was so, so afraid of me. Like I'm the virus itself. LONG: Between waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision, figuring out how to pay the bills, worrying about getting sick, and coronavirus-era racism, all of this can add up to a lot of stress for DACA recipients like Ru. Audrey Pan is an organizer with RAISE, a nonprofit supporting Asian communities on the East Coast, which has been preparing for the DACA decision for months. RAISE is working with lawyers, brainstorming ways for DACA recipients to find work and health insurance if they lose their status, and, connecting them to mental health professionals. AUDREY PAN: A decision could come out any week. So we've been having bi weekly meetings. And for a lot of folks, this is just a space to really vent and really talk about how they're feeling right now, which is incredible anxiety, incredible amount of stress. LONG: Ru takes refuge from the stress by finding small moments of joy. Towards the end of April, she and her family were able to put aside their fears, just for a moment, for her brother’s 12th birthday. SOUND: [FADE IN] singing happy birthday [DIP UNDER] RU: It is also the first time that Michael got to celebrate his birthday with both of his parents. It’s these moments of happiness that drive us that propel us forward. And that tells us no matter what, we will survive this together. I think that's the same for my work. And it's the same for my life at home for my family. LONG: Ru, like many other DACA recipients, is facing a lot of uncertainties. Every day when she goes to work at the hospital, she worries about getting sick and about infecting her family. But she says her family is enduring — and won’t disintegrate, even if their legal status does. Ciara Long, Columbia Radio News.


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