Indira Marquez Robles is an 18-year-old high school senior in Houston with typical teenage worries. Soon, she will go off on her own to college, away from family. She'll leave behind her mom, six brothers and sisters, and two green monk parakeets named Pan and Dulce, who together make “sweetbread” in Spanish.
“I have never been away from home too long,” she said. “The thought of managing things on my own is scary.”
But she also worried about this: On Sept. 5, 2017, the Trump administration said it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gave undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children the chance to work legally and worry less about deportation.
“We cannot admit everyone who would like to come here,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions, making the announcement. “Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch."
Marquez Robles was born in Coatzacoalcos, a coastal city in southeastern Mexico. When she was 6 months old, her mother arranged for a woman to bring her aboard a bus and cross into Texas. The woman had a US passport for another baby, one who resembled little Marquez Robles. So, she slipped through while her mother swam across the river.
Marquez Robles received DACA status in March, 2016 when she was 15 years old. It offered a chance to get a Social Security card, apply for a driver’s license and to work legally to save for college. It meant a “sense of security, a sense of validity, somewhere to flourish,” she says.
The Trump administration’s decision to cancel DACA felt like she was being thrown back “into the land of the unknown.” The cancellation also included a significant end date. DACA recipients could only renew their status if their work permits and protections expired by March 5, 2018. Marquez Robles’ benefits will expire on March 21, 2018 — 16 days after the government’s deadline.
Then came some relief. On Jan. 9, Judge William Alsup of Federal District Court in San Francisco issued a preliminary injunction that blocked the government’s phaseout, arguing that the decision to end the program was arbitrary.
Within days, the government began accepting renewal requests again. This week, Marquez Robles is heading to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Houston to file her own DACA renewal request. If approved, her DACA status could be extend until 2020.
It’s a close call, for now.
Yet Marquez Robles is well aware that the judge’s order is preliminary, a temporary stop that the Trump administration is expected to fight. On Jan. 16, the Justice Department said it has appealed the injunction and will also ask the Supreme Court to hear the DACA case.
She also knows that the ruling does not require the government to accept new applications from undocumented immigrants who are eligible for DACA. That opportunity ended on Sept. 5. Marquez Robles, who is active in the national advocacy group United We Dream, knows there are people who are being left behind — would-be DACA applicants, or those who have already lost their DACA status.
Marie D. De Jesús/PRI
“I’m trying to feel more at ease, but honestly I’m under a lot of stress,” she says. “It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a much bigger wound because the ruling only applies to a certain number of individuals and we are very unified. That’s why we want to push for programs like a clean Dream Act,” referring to legislation to provide a broader solution for undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children and their parents, without more border security funding attached. Trump has said on numerous occasions, including in an on-camera conversation with lawmakers, that he would only sign a DACA bill if it came with funding for him to build up more of a wall on the southern border.
“No wall,” she says. “They need to hear us on this, and we’re going to fight for it until we have it.”
Meanwhile, reality looms. The year 2020, Marquez Roble’s DACA expiration date, will land during the spring of her sophomore year in college. If she cannot renew her DACA status then, she will risk being deported.
Marquez Robles says one of her “coping methods” to keep from being discouraged or afraid is to talk to her mom about the risks she took in life. Sometimes, their talks turn to those early memories of crossing the US-Mexico border — moments Marquez Robles was too young to remember, spaces that her mom fills in.
Marquez Robles says that she is still in awe hearing how her mom handed her, as an infant, to that woman she barely knew on the bus, entrusting her to take her into the US.
“She’ll talk about how hot it was, what the wind was like. I love hearing these stories … even hearing how scared she was,” Marquez Robles says. “But she put a lot of hope into being able to meet me once we both made it into the United States. She wanted to take the best chances.”