South Dakotans React to DACA Supreme Court ruling

 Karen Benitez-Lopez is a DACA recipient living in South Dakota
Karen Benitez-Lopez is a DACA recipient living in South Dakota (KSFY)
Published: Jun. 18, 2020 at 10:34 PM CDT
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Feelings of celebration and relief are sweeping through the immigrant community in South Dakota in response to the Supreme Court ruling. It has upheld the validity of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known DACA.

A growing fear that had been building for three years, according to Christy Nicolaisen, Executive Director of the Sioux Falls Multicultural Center.

"To pull somebody out. To rip them out of their life and put them someplace else. That just isn't right," said Nicolaisen.

DACA was designed for those brought to America when they were too young to decide for themselves and grew up here. Many have no memory of the country they came from or even know how to speak the language.

"So if you are married and you have a child and you didn't have papers, you're going to be taken away from your husband and your and your kids," said Nicolaisen.

Karen Benitez-Lopez grew up in South Dakota, undocumented. She lived in fear not knowing what could get her sent back to Mexico and was afraid of the police. She even feared getting into trouble at recess could have her deported.

"I didn't know what would send me back to Mexico. Every day was just living cautiously. And being thankful because that could be your last day," said Benitez-Lopez.

Benitez-Lopez was seeing a future with few possibilities and had resolved to a life of potentially field work or cleaning. Her lack of hope carried through in school, where she did little to apply herself to her studies. When DACA regulations changed, so did her outlook and she completely turned around her grades and attitude toward school. She now is a teacher in a multilingual school program.

"With DACA, it was just a door of opportunities finally opened and I knew that I could actually go get an education," said Benitez-Lopez.

South Dakota State Representative and Speaker of the House Steven Haugaard says immigration has been a moving target too long. He reacted to hearing the story of Benitez-Lopez.

"And that's not the kind of ambiguity that anybody should have to experience. They should either know with certainly when they come here that they're either authorized to be here or not, or that they have a pathway to citizenship or they don't," said Haugaard.

Haugaard believes Congress should make firm decisions and not the court system. He's been reviewing the Supreme Court case documents throughout the day.

"The case is important and it addresses some things but it leaves some uncertainty what you saw along the way was a very divided court," said Haugaard.

Daca allows those brought to the US to get a social security card, work, and study. Applicants must have arrived on US soil prior to their 16th birthday and remained in the country since 2007.

Although the ruling is seen as a victory, it's also seen as a journey and a hope for a green card or perhaps citizenship in the future.

South Dakota Voices for Peace released a statement through founder Taneeza Islam:

"SD Dreamers/DACA recipients are our nurses, bankers, educators, frontline workers, and kids' team sports coaches. For over three years thousands of South Dakota's DREAMers and their families lived in fear of losing their work permits and the ability to continue to live lawfully in the United States. Today they can breathe a sigh a relief as the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 5-4 decision ruled that Trump Administration could not end DACA in the reckless manner they tried in 2017. With community advocacy on local, state, and national levels coupled with strategic litigation, we celebrate this win today.

Though it is likely the Trump administration will try another avenue to end DACA, we will celebrate this victory today and continue to fight for comprehensive immigration reform which allows a path to citizenship for our DREAMers. With this ruling, the Trump Administration must accept DACA applications. Will will wait to see how this administration responds.

SD Voices for Peace and SD Voices for Justice has been on the front lines of advocating for DREAMers/DACA recipients in South Dakota since our formation in January 2017. We led the way in September 2017 in bringing people together in a solidarity vigil for DREAMers and heard from an aspiring young man who dreamt of opening his own barbershop in SD. In December 2017, we organized Sioux Falls DREAMers to meet with Senator Rounds, Senator Thune's staff, and then Representative Noem's staff, so members of Congress could hear firsthand SD DREAMers accomplishments and hopes. And in January 2018 we organized a coalition to defeat SB 103, a bill in Pierre, SD that would deny access to higher education for undocumented students, which would have included DREAMers.

We will continue to advocate for DREAMers in our community to obtain full U.S. Citizenship, the only country they call home."