While attorneys argued the fate of DACA in the nation’s highest court Tuesday, supporters of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals remained mostly quiet across the Yakima Valley.
They’re quietly waiting and hoping for a positive outcome from U.S. Supreme Court justices, said local Latino advocate Elizabeth Torrez.
“It’s too close to everyone’s heart — there’s too many young people who depend on this decision,” said Torres, research coordinator for El Proyecto Bienestar (the well-being project). “It’s just a topic that everyone who lives in the Valley knows somebody, has a family member or has ties to it.”
DACA recipients — commonly referred to as Dreamers — are keeping their thoughts, and status, to themselves until a decision is rendered, said Mary Lopez of OneAmerica in Yakima.
“What I see, Dreamers, they don’t want to speak up,” she said. “They are feeling they don’t want to exploit themselves.”
Display of support
Not everyone refrained from displaying support for DACA Tuesday.
Community members and Central Washington University students belonging to the group Central Washington Justice for our Neighbors held a Tuesday evening vigil at the Kittitas County Courthouse in Ellensburg in support of DACA recipients.
The group is planning another vigil for immigrant rights at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday night at the courthouse.
They’re calling on state lawmakers to make several fixes to immigration law and services here.
“There are specific demands that we have,” said Abigail Scholar, the group’s executive director. Those include state support of DACA renewal, a relief fund for DACA recipients and a pro-immigration legislative platform, she said.
Demands also include urging the state departments of commerce and labor to support initiatives for DACA employment solutions, and for state intervention to protect DACA youth held at Cowlitz County’s juvenile center.
The average DACA recipient has lived in the U.S. for 20 years. Nationwide, Dreamers and their families have contributed $8.8 billion in tax revenue, according to a 2019 report by the Center for Progress.
Here in the Valley, those protected by DACA hold jobs, attend colleges and universities, and have started families of their own.
There are about 800,000 people protected by DACA nationwide. Of them, 17,843 live in Washington state. While there’s no firm number of how many DACA recipients live in Yakima County, it’s estimated that about 6,000 people are eligible for the program, according to the Migrant Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think-tank.
Immigrants have long been a part of the Yakima Valley and have integrated with the rest of the community, said Bishop Joseph Tyson of the Catholic Diocese.
He hopes the national controversy over DACA and immigration doesn’t fray the woven tapestry of immigrants and non-immigrants here.
“Obviously there are tensions everywhere,” he said. “But we also have lived a tapestry of English and Spanish. The Mexican heritage has been woven into the Yakima Valley since the Braceros of World War II.”
The Braceros were part of a WWII farm labor program.
Bishop Tyson said he hopes the controversy doesn’t unravel the decades of community integration in the Yakima Valley, and blames federal lawmakers for not providing a solution.
“I’m hoping the bitterness around the immigration debate doesn’t overshadow the great positives that we have enjoyed in the Yakima Valley for generations,” he said. “What we’ve built socially, economically and religiously is being placed under enormous stress because folks six hours away by jet can’t figure this out.”
Several local Dreamers who participated in interviews when President Donald Trump first announced his decision to scrap DACA more than two years ago didn’t return phone calls and emails seeking comment for this story.
Many are afraid, Torres said.
“Fear and uncertainty, that’s the issue,” she said. “It’s such a delicate topic, especially if you’re a recipient of DACA. With everything that immigration is doing, that ICE is doing using social media to find our community members, people are afraid because you are not protected anymore.
“This is a decision that’s affecting people’s personal lives — of course they’re going to be afraid to talk about the issue.”