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‘Dreamers’ in St. Louis area breathe easier after Supreme Court victory

‘Dreamers’ in St. Louis area breathe easier after Supreme Court victory

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The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Thursday upholding protections for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants was good news for Ricardo Martinez, a 22-year-old St. Louis County resident who plans to start a business next month.

Martinez, who said he came to the United States from Mexico when he was 5, is one of an estimated 650,000 people to gain protection from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, launched by former President Barack Obama.

President Donald Trump had tried to end the program, but the high court said Thursday the administration did not go through the proper legal channels to do so.

“I’m relieved,” Martinez told the Post-Dispatch. “If this ruling would’ve gone the other way, it could’ve really damaged a lot of DACA recipients. I think a lot of the DACA recipients, including myself, are on a career path, and everything would’ve been stopped.”

Martinez said he recently moved to Fenton with his wife and 3-year-old son Leo.

He plans to launch a website next month that will provide a centralized location for Hispanics to learn about financial topics and connect with Spanish-speaking professionals.

Areli Munoz-Reyes, 24, who said she came to the United States when she was 8, from Tlaxcala, Mexico, said after the ruling “I can breathe a little better right now … . It’s a relief for today.”

She said she would keep pushing for a federal law that would give immigrants with unlawful status a path to citizenship.

“The fight is not over,” said Munoz-Reyes, who lives in the Maryland Heights area. “I really want people to understand that we really need a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people.”

Ivonne Ramirez, 26, came to St. Louis when she was 8 years old, along with her parents and four siblings, who left Mexico out of fear of retaliation by local police.

When Ramirez heard about the Supreme Court decision, she said she felt relieved. “I felt like my hope was back,” she said.

Others react

St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson celebrated the ruling.

“I welcome the decision of the Supreme Court,” he said in a statement. “I hope this may serve as an important step toward offering a permanent solution for Dreamers and affirming the human dignity of these brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Lawyer Sury Garcia Sanchez was more exuberant. “I screamed with joy when I saw the decision,” she said.

Garcia Sanchez is staff attorney at St. Francis Community Services, a nonprofit that provides legal aid and outreach to vulnerable communities of St. Louis, including immigrants. She said St. Francis manages approximately 200 DACA cases of immigrants, mostly from Mexico, South America and Central America, in their 20s and early 30s.

“They are the ones who are keeping our communities going day-to-day,” she said. “They’re all trying their best to keep going, to get their education and contribute back to the community that they’ve grown up in here in St. Louis.”

The legal reprieve didn’t please others, such as U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, who bashed the decision on Twitter.

He also angrily denounced a Supreme Court ruling earlier this week that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people from discrimination in the workplace.

“The most disappointing week at #SCOTUS in years,” Hawley said in reaction to the 5-4 ruling, in which Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the court’s four liberals.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, said Congress needed to find a “permanent solution” for “Dreamers.”

“As I have said before, the young people in the DACA program need a permanent solution that will allow them to continue working and going to school in the only country that many of them have ever known,” he said in a statement. “That solution cannot come from the courts. It will have to come from Congress and the administration working together to fix our broken immigration system. As I have also said many times, enhancing our border security must be the first step in dealing with these issues.”

Fred Pestello, president of St. Louis University, said he was “elated” with the decision. The university did not disclose whether any DACA recipients are enrolled there.

“As I said in 2017 when the program was rescinded, each of us has a desire to live free of fear, to be loved, to belong and to achieve our dreams,” Pestello said in a statement. “Undocumented members of our community belong here, and we are grateful for this opportunity to reaffirm that today.”

Legal protections for “Dreamers” have enjoyed support across the political spectrum, according to a June 2018 Gallup poll.

Gallup found that 75% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents supported allowing immigrants brought to the country illegally as children to gain citizenship “if they meet certain requirements over a period of time.”

Ninety-two percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents favored such a program, the poll found.

No in-state tuition

In Missouri, the state Legislature has banned in-state college tuition for immigrants with unlawful status.

House Budget Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said last year colleges are only able to charge in-state tuition because of the state’s financial support. Because of this, he suggested taxpayers would in effect be condoning illegal behavior if the students in question were given in-state tuition.

Christian Basi, spokesman for the University of Missouri System, said there were approximately a dozen immigrants with unlawful status enrolled across the system’s four campuses.

“We’re going to continue to abide by the law and support our students as much as possible,” he said.

Martinez said Missouri is missing out. He said undocumented students are taking their tuition dollars elsewhere, leaving the state.

Munoz-Reyes said she had paid an international tuition rate to attend St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, and said she was leaving Missouri because she had won a full-ride scholarship to Eastern Connecticut State University to study social work.

“I wish it wasn’t that way, but unfortunately, like I said, since 2015 I tried to get in-state tuition,” she said. “But nothing has really changed.”

Andrea Perez, 23, left Missouri to attend Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, after paying $5,000 a semester to earn an associate’s degree at St. Louis Community College. She wants to attend law school, likely out of state, after graduating in December.

Perez said her career plans are tied to the DACA program’s fate.

“I really don’t know my future because my future doesn’t really depend on me,” she said.

Vivian Garcia Cruz attends Fontbonne University on a scholarship and said she hopes to become a licensed social worker after graduating next May, the same month her DACA status would have expired.

She hopes to stay in St. Louis, where she has lived since age 3, but Missouri does not grant licenses to undocumented immigrants or DACA recipients.

“My state doesn’t support immigrants like me,” she said. “I will still continue to fight and try to remain here. I don’t know anywhere else but St. Louis. I would love to use this education and really bring it home.”

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