Ohio's DACA Recipients Share Their Stories Ahead Of Supreme Court Case

Nov 12, 2019

A major piece of President Donald Trump's immigration policy is set for a showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court after the lower courts rejected the attempt to phase-out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA.

The program allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to temporarily stay through a two-year work permit. Supporters of DACA say there are about 700,000 recipients nationwide, and about 4,500 in Ohio.

Harjyot Singh is among those DACA recipients, known as "DREAMers." Singh was born in New Delhi, India but she's lived in Central Ohio for 19 years, nearly her whole life. She graduated from Dublin Coffman High School, and now she's a psychology major at Ohio State University.

Singh wants to use her passion of brain science to help people.

"I love the interactions we have as a species. I think there's more to that and I'd like to study that on a cellular level," Singh says.

But she and many other DACA recipients face an uncertain future as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments Tuesday.

Trump made the decision to phase out the program in September 2017. He argues that it was created illegally under President Barack Obama's executive order and that it should be created by law through Congress.

As a DACA recipient, Singh was able to get a work permit, which opened the door to finding a job and going to college. With the Supreme Court taking up the case, Singh is left with many questions.

"For me that means, my goodness, am I going to be able to work again? Am I going to be able to attend college again? Am I going to be able to drive again?" she asks. "Because of the work permit I have through the DACA program I am able to get my ID, I am able to drive. So there are many things that are in line for me if that DACA program were to end."

Singh is among several immigration advocates who are not only calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold DACA, but for Congress to pass immigration reform that would be more comprehensive.

Zakaria Farah, who was born in Somalia, has also spent the majority of his life in Central Ohio, graduating from Canal Winchester High School.

"I remember when I hit that halfway mark, like, 'Oh, I've lived in the U.S. half my life out,' and then you hit that tipping point," says Farah.

As he explains, DACA is an important and helpful program, but even that only patches a two-year window. Farah says that comes down to living life in 20-month increments.

"That clock starts ticking no matter when," he says. "My DACA is set to expire Sept. 25, 2020. I bet if you walk up to any DACA recipient and ask them when their DACA expires, they know it off the back of their heads. Cause we have an expiration date."

As an environmental engineering major at Ohio State, Farah says he's got lots of plans, not only for his degree but to continue his work advocating for immigration reform.

"It's like a band-aid to a bigger issue and I constantly want to reiterate that we should be fighting for comprehensive immigration reform to take the place of DACA and not to keep some form of DACA," Farah says. "I mean obviously DACA is good, I like it, it helps me in a lot of ways in my life, but we should be replacing it with something better."

Polls show the DACA program has broad support from Democrats and Republicans.

In 2017, Trump said the future of DACA was a difficult subject for him because he has a "great love" for DACA recipients. He has also said that if the Supreme Court sides with the White House, Congress will reach a bipartisan deal to reform immigration that could end up protecting DACA recipients.

A spokesperson for Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said the senator believes the country's immigration system is broken.

"He has long believed that those in the DACA program are here through no fault of their own, and he supports bipartisan efforts to find a permanent solution on DACA," spokesperson Emmalee Kalmbach said in a written statement. "Rob has said many times he would support codifying DACA along with some border security measures, which is consistent with the plan that he introduced with Senator [Jerry] Moran earlier this year."

Other state and congressional Republican leaders could not be reached for comment on Veterans Day.

Singh has a message to lawmakers who decide to take on the issue of immigration reform.

"That they are not just questioning the legality of some paperwork but they are questioning our lives, and that's what's at stake," says Singh.

The U.S. Supreme Court would likely have a decision on the DACA case later in 2020 in the middle of what's expected to be a heated presidential race.