SCHODACKÂ â€” Donâ€™t leave the house. Donâ€™t talk to anyone.
This was the kind of advice Mario Vazquezâ€™s parents gave him shortly after his uncle was deported. Officers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were moving through their neighborhood, and his parents didnâ€™t want the same thing to happen to their son.
Vazquez was just 2 years old when his parents moved to the U.S. from Mexico City â€” a place he has no memories of. He grew up in Schodack, and for most of his childhood had no idea he was an undocumented immigrant. When he was in middle school, he asked his parents–his father is a landscaper, his mother cleans houses–if they could take a trip over the border.
â€œI was told, â€˜No, we canâ€™t â€” because if we do, we canâ€™t come back,â€™â€ Vazquez said.
At first, the revelation of Vazquez’s immigration status didnâ€™t bother him. But by the time he got to Maple Hill High School, it started to warp his life in deeper ways. He worried about how it would affect his college plans. Without a Social Security number, he couldnâ€™t apply for most jobs to help him save for college. He also wasnâ€™t able to apply for federal student aid. He couldnâ€™t even get a driver’s license â€” a virtual necessity for a teen living in a rural town.
In general, he came to realize the peril of not being afraid.
As an undocumented immigrant, Vazquez said, â€œYou need to be more careful, and you need to watch what you say and what you do. I lived my life carefully trying to not get in trouble.â€
In the summer of 2012, just before his 15th birthday, he received some news that would change everything. His sister told him about a program that the Obama administration was rolling out after years of frustration over the inability to reach agreement with Congress on ways to address undocumented immigration. It would allow young immigrants like Vazquez to live and work in the United States without immediate fear of deportation.
The program, which ended up covering about 700,000 people, was called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
It didnâ€™t provide a path to citizenship, but it gave these young immigrants, often called “dreamers,” temporary work permits so they could finish their education in the U.S. or buy time to figure out their next move. Suddenly, Vazquez didnâ€™t have to worry as much about being able to pay for college: It would be easier to get a part-time job, and he became eligible for federal student aid.
Most of all, Vazquez said, â€œI didnâ€™t have to worry one day I was going to get caught and get sent to a country that I love but have no actual knowledge of.â€
That relief didnâ€™t last.
In September 2017, President Donald J. Trump announced he would be ending DACA, saying its creation was beyond the legal power of any president.
â€œI do not favor punishing children,â€ Trump said in his formal announcement of the termination. But â€œthe program is unlawful and unconstitutional and cannot be successfully defended in court.â€
Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on whether the government can terminate the program. Justices heard oral arguments in early November, and court watchers have said it seemed likely the conservative majority will rule in favor of the Trump administration.
To argue its case, the administration pointed to another Obama-era program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA. Similar to DACA, it was meant to grant temporary status for parents of citizens or of lawful permanent residents.
DAPA was blocked by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, which said Obama had exceeded his statutory authority. The current administration argues that this ruling also means DACA is unlawful.
Mayra Joachin, a staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, a California-based policy analysis and advocacy group, said the administration’s legal argument is faulty.
â€œOur view is that the Court of Appeals never reached a decision on DACA and that there is no challenge to DACA itself,â€ Joachin said. â€œWe believe there is a significant difference between the two programs.â€
Itâ€™s not only a matter of what the court decides, but how it reaches its conclusion, Joachin said. For instance, if a majority of justices decides they donâ€™t even have the legal authority to review the governmentâ€™s decision to scuttle the program, then current injunctions that allow people to file DACA renewal applications are invalid. But it also would mean no court has ruled that DACA is unconstitutional â€” meaning that a new White House administration could reinstate the program. (Every Democratic presidential candidate has denounced the Trump administration for its attempts to end DACA.)
If the Supreme Court goes further and weighs in directly on the legality of DACA, it could either preserve the program for years to come or bring it to an end permanently.
â€œItâ€™s tricky because there are so many questions before the court, and the court can take a very narrow approach,â€ Joachin said. â€œIf it were to take that additional steps and go through the merits of DACA and if DACA is lawful that would have the most impact for years to come.â€
If DACA ends and isn’t replaced by a similar program â€” something that Trump has signaled he might support as part of a comprehensive immigration bill â€” itâ€™s likely that many undocumented immigrants wouldn’t return to their home counties. They would just go back into the shadows in the country where they grew up. All the old anxieties, about being able to hold down a job while avoiding deportation, would return.
But they’d be much easier to track down: The program’s recipients “have already provided their information â€” sensitive information â€” regarding themselves to the government,â€ Joachin said. â€œTheyâ€™re not only potentially losing DACA, theyâ€™re losing the sense of security and gaining the fear that one way or another theyâ€™ll be separated from their families.â€
Vazquez is a junior studying political science at the state University at Albany, and aspires to work in government. He said heâ€™s had an interest in politics since high school â€” the same time his status began to haunt him â€” and by the time he was 19 he was working as a legislative aide in the office of Assembly member Marcos Crespo, a Democrat from the South Bronx who was a key sponsor of the new “Green Light” law, which makes driver’s licenses available to undocumented immigrants.
That experience confirmed to Vazquez that he wanted to work in politics. But now he worries that goal may be put on hold.
â€œJust seeing that dream can be delayed â€” or even taken away â€” is just heartbreaking,â€ he said.