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June 15 marks the ninth anniversary of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants temporary relief from deportation and the right to work for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. In almost a decade, more than 800,000 young people from dozens of countries have benefited from the program, even as DACA, which doesn’t provide a path to citizenship, has been constantly under threat from legal challenges and political changes. As a result of the turmoil, thousands of recipients and eligible applicants have been in limbo despite having lived and studied most of their lives in the United States. 

In September 2017, the Trump administration moved to rescind DACA and halted all new applications. Several lawsuits followed, and in June 2019 the Supreme Court agreed to review the cases. One year later, the justices ruled 5–4 in favor of Dreamers finding the unlawful termination of the program was “arbitrary and capricious,” while nonetheless, still leaving a door open for the government to end it legally. In the aftermath of the decision, the Trump administration attempted to limit the scope of DACA pending a legal review, but a federal judge in New York invalidated the rules on a technicality by determining that then Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf’s appointment was unlawful at the time. The December order reinstated DACA and allowed for new applications to be considered for the first time in several years. US Citizenship and Immigration Services received around 2,700 initial petitions between mid-November and December 31, 2020. 

“These are young people who were in high school or about to graduate and coming of age right around the time the Trump administration callously decided to try to end the program,” says José Muñoz of United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led community in the United States. He applied for DACA in 2012 at the age of 21. “They’re the same age I was when I applied almost 10 years ago and yet we still don’t have the certainty that DACA will not be taken away.” 

In March, the House passed the American Dream and Promise Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for as many as 2.5 million undocumented immigrants, including Dreamers. The bill’s prospect in the Senate looks uncertain, as does the future of DACA. A pending ruling in a federal lawsuit filed by Texas and several other states challenging the legality of the program could strike it down any day now. 

On the anniversary of DACA, Mother Jones spoke to six first-time applicants, some of whom have already been approved and others who are still waiting for their petitions to be processed. They come from four different countries and are scattered across the United States. Some were too young to apply for DACA when it first came around; others were too afraid. Here are their stories in their own words:

Andrea Anaya

“I felt like I was giving up something I had hidden for so long.”

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WE'RE TAKING A SHORT BREAK…

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If you value the reporting you get from Mother Jones and you can right now, please join your fellow readers who pitch in from time to time to keep our democracy-advancing, justice-seeking journalism charging hard (and to help us avoid a real budget crunch as June 30 approaches and our fiscal year ends).

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