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By Caitlin-Marie Ward

June 30, 2020 — On June 18, 2020, the Supreme Court extended a lifeline to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). In a 5-4 decision, it blocked the Trump administration’s effort to end the Obama-era initiative that offered work permits and protection from deportation to nearly 700,000 undocumented individuals who arrived in the United States as children.

Ivonne Ramirez has lived in the U.S. since she was eight years, but as a DACA recipient she is still waiting for a path to permanent citizenship.

Over 29,000 DACA recipients currently working in healthcare professions, proving the important contributions DACA-recipients make, especially now during the fight against coronavirus. Ivonne Ramirez, 26, is one of those 29,000. Ramirez currently oversees the catechism program at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Ferguson near St. Louis, Missouri. During the week, Ramirez works as a quality control specialist at a medical supply company that provides vital equipment to hospitals for routine surgeries. While most of us remain sequestered at home, Ramirez continues showing up to work eight hours a day, five days a week (sometimes more). She’s no stranger to constant underlying stress and a sense of uncertainty. Growing up undocumented prepared her well for the present moment. It’s part of why she can push through the fear and show up to work every day.

Ramirez’s story is like that of many other DACA recipients. Born in Mexico City, she traveled at the age of eight with her mother to the United States, where her father had been living for the last year. Although her mother warned her to hide whenever she heard a helicopter overhead or saw a truck approaching, Ramirez didn’t fully grasp the implications of crossing without proper legal documents into the United States. “In my 8-year-old mind, I was just thinking, this is what I need to do to get to my dad,” she recalls.

Although she did not face open hostility growing up, Ramirez says she always felt the burden of not being from the U.S. when she was in school. Her parents warned her that if classmates or a teacher asked her where she was from, she should always say St. Louis. When she protested that she was born in Mexico, her mother would gently correct her, “No, no. You’re from St. Louis.” Over the years, Ramirez tried to adjust to feeling like she was only ever half a part of her community. “My conversations with classmates or co-workers would be normal until they started asking me where I was from,” said Ramirez. “Then my walls would start to go up.”

Staying motivated was a challenge, too. Cut off from most scholarships and federal loans, college was nothing but a pipe dream, and career options were limited when she had no legal right to work in the United States. “I thought there was no part two. This was it,” she said.

All of that changed in June 2012, when former President Obama announced the DACA program. With a social security number and a valid work permit, Ramirez was able to explore her interest in the healthcare profession, an interest she says is driven by her desire to help people. “I am a social and friendly person,” she explains. “I love talking to people. I love helping people. I love having a relationship where we connect with one another.”

DACA eligibility only lasts for two years before applicants must renew their status, a process that takes up to six months and costs $495. Renewing takes both a financial and psychological toll. “It’s a constant reminder [that] you’re not from here,” she says.

Ramirez breathed a deep sigh of relief following the Supreme Court’s decision; however, she knows the fight isn’t over yet. “This is a step in the right direction, but we still have more to go,” she says.

The next step is providing a permanent solution and pathway to citizenship for the 700,000 DACA recipients in the United States. Legislation already exists in both chambers of Congress. The House passed the Dream and Promise Act in June 2019, but so far, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, has declined to bring the bill’s counterpart to the Senate floor.

The Supreme Court’s decision determined that the administration could not end the DACA program because it did not follow the proper channels. But, the decision also noted the White House still has the legal authority to end DACA in the future. This prospect coupled with the continued inaction by the Senate leaves Ramirez and her fellow DACA recipients in a prolonged state of limbo.

In spite of it all, Ramirez remains focused on the greatest gift that DACA has given her — freedom from fear. She refuses to retreat back into the shadows, saying, “DACA taught me that I’m an immigrant, and it’s ok.”

[1] Pending a final review of a proposed rule change by USCIS, the agency in charge of processing DACA applications, renewal fees are set to increase from $495 to $765.