Abril Gallardo stood on the steps of the United States Supreme Court earlier this month and struggled to make sense of what she had just heard.
That morning, the court’s justices heard oral arguments surrounding the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that has allowed Gallardo to support her family, to get a job, to build a life for herself in Phoenix.
It had been difficult for her to parse through much of the legal jargon used in court, but she tried to remain hopeful as she exited the building. She was cold, and the breeze was making her shiver, but as she stood on the steps she made a point to take in everything around her. Looking out at the crowd of people that had formed in front of the court, she focused on a giant monarch butterfly, propped up by a few protesters on the ground. Around it, people were chanting, “Home is here, home is here.” Her voice cracked with emotion as she joined in with them.
For just a second, she felt like everything was going to be okay.
Two years after President Trump announced he would be ending the Obama-era DACA program, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority indicated that they may be ready to end it. The program, introduced in 2012, acts as temporary protection for nearly 700,000 undocumented people like Gallardo that were brought to the U.S. as children (they must meet certain requirements, including passing a background check).
We spoke with three DACA recipients about how the policy has affected their lives and what the Supreme Court’s decision could mean for them.
Silver Spring, Md.
In the months leading up to Claudia Quiñonez and her family’s move to the United States, their home country of Bolivia was facing a water crisis.
Rising tensions between police and protesters burgeoned into full-blown riots in response to rising water costs, and the food coming into the city was too expensive for them to afford. She didn’t want to come to the U.S., but she trusted her mother when she told her that it was the best chance they had. She was 11 years old, and she couldn’t even begin to understand the implications of life as an undocumented immigrant.
She got through middle school and most of high school before the differences between her and her friends became more apparent. She couldn’t work, she couldn’t drive, she couldn’t go to college. But right as she was graduating high school, the announcement of the DACA program changed everything.
For years, she had been sharing one bedroom in a rented apartment with her mother, who struggled to provide for them with a retail job. After being approved for DACA, Quiñonez was able to get work, save up for a car, enroll in school, and eventually, move herself and her mother into a place of their own.
DACA gave her a semblance of normalcy after years of struggle, so now that her future is up in the air, Quiñonez has tried to remain positive.
“It’s wishful thinking,” she said. “But I hope that everything goes well. We haven’t made any contingency plans because we’re being optimistic.”
In 2003, Gallardo’s parents brought her and her siblings to the U.S. from Mexico to save their family. In their home state of Hidalgo, the lack of jobs, and surrounding violence threatened to tear them apart. On the advice of her grandmother, they left for Arizona.
With their belongings packed into one backpack, they made their way through the Sonoran Desert. For the then-12 year old Gallardo, the hike initially reminded her of the trips she would make with her grandmother up into the mountains to collect corn and beans for dinner. But as time wore on, her feet started to hurt and her legs started to wobble. Eventually, she heard her father yell out to start running — “Corre, corre!” Her next memory was waking up in Arizona.
Throughout high school, Gallardo says she learned to do three things: work hard, do her best and never talk about her status. She kept her head down and graduated with honors, but as she started receiving letters from prospective colleges, fear and shame set in.
“I started to feel like working hard was a lie,”she said. “There were barriers that had been put in place for me that no amount of hard work could ever fix.”
It wasn’t until she attended a local know-your-rights meeting that she first heard someone talk about their status without any fear. She wanted to feel like that too. She learned more about her options, applied for DACA, and started to make her way through college. Though DACA recipients were not eligible for in-state tuition in Arizona at the time, being able to work allowed her to support her family when her brother underwent a kidney transplant.
Last week, her work as a communications director for Lucha, a local grass roots organization that advocates for social, racial and economic justice, took her to the U.S. Supreme Court. After listening to the arguments presented on Tuesday, she’s confident that the country’s DACA recipients will be okay. ”
“This is our home,” she said. “We have each other and we’re going to keep fighting. We’re not going to stay quiet.”
For more than a decade, Angelica Villalobos and her family were living in the shadows. She came to the U.S. from Mexico with her mother and four siblings in 1996 when she was 11-years-old. She got through school, got married, and made a life for herself until 2007, when Oklahoma passed House Bill 1804, which made it a felony to transport or harbor a person they know or suspect to be undocumented.
By then, she and her sisters had children of their own, and now they were asking questions. Around that time, her sister was pulled over by police, and when she didn’t have a driver’s license, she was detained and later deported. Villalobos took in her sister’s children, trying to explain to them what happened to their mom.
“It was heartbreaking,” she said. “You want to be a role model, an example of strength to children, so it was painful letting them know that we could be separated, we could be deported. There were times that my nephew thought his mom had abandoned him.”
When she heard about DACA, Villalobos and her husband both applied, and were approved in early 2013. “It was such a sense of relief just knowing that we wouldn’t be deported, that our family could stay together,” she said.
But in 2017, just as her oldest daughter was mapping out her plans for college, Trump announced his intention to end the program. She sat down with her daughter to tell her that she wouldn’t be able to attend college out of state, at least not until they knew more. If it ended, and Villalobos and her husband were unprotected, her daughter would have to become the legal guardian of her siblings.
“I just want my kids to be kids,” she said. “But these are the conversations we have to have. We’re trying to stay active in the fight, and we’re trying to have hope because our legislators promised to protect us. I won’t give up.”