Jose Loyo has a university degree in robotics. He leverages those advanced engineering skills daily to test engines for Cummins, a $40-billion multinational corporation that provides power sources for companies worldwide.
Loyo, 23, is proud of his job, proud of his wife and proud of his family-focused midwestern life in Columbus, Indiana.
And yet, because he was brought to the United States from Mexico as a 3-year-old, he is not a citizen and remains concerned he and his wife, Yamileth Martinez, 23, who also arrived in the United States as a child from Mexico, could be deported to a country they know only in stories.
“This place is my life, we want to stay where we grew up and keep our dreams,” said Loyo. “We don’t know much about Mexico. Being told to go back, I can’t imagine that.”
But Loyo and Martinez do have to ponder that possibility. The program that keeps them in the United States is in jeopardy.
Ten years after former President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Congress is once again debating legislation that would allow immigrants brought here as children to become U.S. citizens. Meanwhile, a Texas judge is poised to rule on the constitutionality of the DACA program, creating a potentially urgent deadline for the nation to decide whether hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who have lived here for most of their lives will finally have security in their chosen home or be deported to countries they haven’t seen in many years.
Salvation could come in the form of the new American Dream and Promise Act, which reflects President Joe Biden’s campaign pledges to support Dreamers. In March, the House passed the Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented residents.
Biden immigration bill: Will DACA recipients and agricultural workers have a fast track?
Those residents range from farmworkers to so-called Dreamers such as Loyo and Martinez, both recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, , which gives some 700,000 people who came to the United States as children the ability to live and work here. DACA status has to be renewed every two years and does not offer a path to citizenship.
DACA has been a political football since it was created by Obama in 2012. The program was canceled by former President Donald Trump in 2017 and then reinstated by the Supreme Court last summer.
The program is once again in peril after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and eight other states sued, arguing that DACA recipients placed a financial burden on health care, education and law enforcement. U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen, the judge in the case, has previously said DACA likely violated federal immigration law.
In the meantime, life remains in limbo for hundreds of thousands of young people in the prime of their lives, many working at top companies and others the parents of U.S. citizens. DACA recipients interviewed by USA TODAY said they are emotionally anguished at the thought of leaving the only country they have ever known.
“The way the previous administration treated us was inhumane and led me to depression, anxiety attacks and mental health issues at the thought that suddenly I’d be told to go back to Ecuador,” said Dayann Pazmino, 24, of Austin, Texas. “So often I do feel like a noncitizen. Even now, I’m applying to graduate school and I’m actually considered a foreign student, and I’ve been here since I was 4.”
Pazmino was born in Quito, Ecuador, and came to New York with her mother and two siblings to join her father, who had taken jobs as a taxi and ambulance driver. The family settled in Queens, and her mother soon found work in a factory and as a nanny.
Until she was around 16, Pazmino said she did not feel much different from her New York friends. “But I did wonder why we would take a bus when visiting Florida, or why we never flew to see relatives in Ecuador,” she said. “Something seemed different.”
Good grades helped secure a scholarship to nearby Queens College from TheDream.us, an organization that helps DACA recipients. She then embraced an exchange program with the University of Texas at Austin and decided to stay after realizing that she could help other immigrants who were in dire need of guidance.
“Being in Texas opened my eyes to what it can be like to be a noncitizen in the U.S.,” said Pazmino, who describes herself as a queer nonbinary artist, musician and community organizer. “Growing up in New York, I knew about immigration raids, but it wasn’t at the scale and fear level as it is for some of those in Texas, where the slightest thing can get you deported.”
Immigration experts say there is reason DACA recipients should be concerned given that many expect Republican lawmakers to leverage the growing crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where thousands of hopeful young immigrants are being detained, to extract border security concessions in exchange for supporting the Promise Act. Activists said the two issues should not be linked.