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The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to review the immigration policy Tuesday after President Donald Trump’s administration moved to end the program that provides deportation protection and work authorization to immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

Since 2012, Claudia Jimenez said she has lived her life in two-year increments.

Born in Venezuela, the 26-year-old Altamonte Springs resident is among about 700,000 immigrants enrolled nationwide in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

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But President Donald Trump’s move to end the program known as DACA in 2017 has left Jimenez anxious about whether she’ll continue to receive renewable protection every two years from deportation.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday about the validity of Trump’s decision.

The Department of Homeland Security is challenging lower court rulings that blocked the termination of the program for so-called Dreamers enacted under former President Barack Obama. Only renewal applications are currently being accepted by the federal government.

The anxiety over possibly losing deportation protection and work authorization prompted Jimenez and her 22-year-old sister to submit their renewal requests before the expiration date.

“We had to do it early, just in case the Supreme Court decided to rule against us,” Jimenez said. “Even though we lost about six months [of our work permit], we wanted to make sure we had at least a year and a half to figure out what the next step is.”

DACA recipient criteria

? are under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012

? came to the U.S. while under the age of 16

? have continuously resided in the U.S. from June 15, 2007 to the present

? entered the U.S. without inspection or fell out of lawful visa status before June 15, 2012

? were physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making the request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS

? are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or Armed Forces

? have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors of any kind

? do not pose a threat to national security or public safety

A feeling of liberation

Mariana Castro remembers the destruction of her family’s convenience store when she was a child in Peru, an attack attributed to the remnants of a once-prominent terrorist organization that plagued the South American country for decades.

“We woke up one morning and everything was gone. Everything was trashed," she said. “My family lost our income.”

Castro, now 25 and living in Kissimmee, left Peru when she was 10 with her mother, leaving two older brothers and her father behind.

When they arrived in Florida with visas, Customs and Border Protection gave them each a form documenting their arrival and expected departure date. It also serves as proof of legal entry into the country and is needed to apply for a visa extension.

Castro said a border patrol agent filled out part of the form with a pen because the authorization stamp ran out of ink.

“When our six months were about to be up and we applied for an extension, it was denied because of the pen mark. It looked like it was tampered with,” Castro said. "Looking back, it’s the smallest thing in the world that can forever change your life. From that moment on, we were undocumented.”

As she grew up in Central Florida, Castro said she hid her undocumented status from most people, confiding only in her friend’s parents, who would take her to doctor’s appointments and school functions because her mother was working three jobs and couldn’t drive.

She soon filled out an application for the DACA program when Obama announced it during her senior year of high school and was eligible for a drivers license after it was approved.

“I remember driving to my finals and feeling so liberated," Castro said. “Spending so many years undocumented, I never thought I would be behind the wheel."

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Castro has since graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in biology.

Jimenez said her family fled the constant threat of violence in Venezuela when she was 8.

DACA recipient Claudia Jimenez moved to the U.S. with her parents and younger sister from Venezuela when she was 8-years-old.
DACA recipient Claudia Jimenez moved to the U.S. with her parents and younger sister from Venezuela when she was 8-years-old. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel)

“At one point, we ended up almost gunned down over the car we had. My dad was able to get away but they had their guns drawn out on us," she said. “It’s just very unsafe. There was no future for us.”

The Jimenez sisters were initially nervous over divulging their personal information to the federal government for the application in fear that it would put a spotlight on their parents undocumented status.

The application and biometric screening fees, which run about $500 per person, continues to be a financial hardship, Jimenez said.

“The first time that we did it, we couldn’t afford to pay a lawyer,” she said. “We had to do it ourselves very early on, pray and hope for the best and reread things 10,000 times. There’s always a worry of ‘did I do it right?'"

Two years ago, between classes at the University of Central Florida, Jimenez said she cried hysterically in a coffee shop when news broke that the program was being shuttered.

“I probably looked like a nutcase to people, but it was obviously devastating,” she said. “This got pulled out from under me. My life has gotten exponentially better because of DACA."

Jimenez graduated last year from UCF with a political science degree and dreams of attending law school one day to become an immigration lawyer.

“You go through a system and you see that it’s broken and you want to change it and you want to help other people," she said. "That’s the main goal for me — I see so much injustice.”

Uncertain future

There are multiple possible outcomes from the Supreme Court hearing, according to Denisse Ilabaca, an immigration lawyer based in Seminole County who has clients enrolled in the program.

The court could decide it has no jurisdiction to review the Trump administration’s termination of the program.

“At that point, all the injunctions that are in place that still allow DACA applications to be renewed, those will go away," Ilabaca said.

The suspense leading up to the Supreme Court arguments is palpable for those who face returning to countries they haven’t lived in since childhood.

“We are in the line of fire, waiting for the court to decide what our future holds," Castro said. “I think a lot of us have learned to live in limbo — to only plan for as long as our DACA renewal is up.”

Although the hope among many DACA recipients is for the program to continue, it’s only a temporary fix.

“This is very much a Band-Aid. Right now, we’re kind of putting out the fires wherever it needs to be," Jimenez said. "But it’s not the ultimate goal ?— the ultimate goal is for us to gain citizenship.”

Polls show that a majority of American voters support a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients. Major companies like Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Starbucks and Target have publicly supported the program and submitted briefs to the Supreme Court touting the economic benefits.

On Tuesday, Trump referred to some DACA recipients in a tweet as “very tough, hardened criminals."

A core requirement for acceptance into the program is passing a criminal background check with no convictions for felonies or “significant” misdemeanors.

The president also stated that if the court strikes down the program, Congress will come up with a deal that would benefit DACA recipients.

Congressional bills for immigration reform proposed throughout previous administrations have ended in a deadlock.

In the most recent attempt, the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Dream and Promise Act in June.

The bill calls for the cancellation of removal orders and would grant permanent resident status to immigrants who arrived as children.

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But a hearing hasn’t been set for the bill by the Republican-led Senate.

Meanwhile, Jimenez works two jobs, building up her savings as she and other DACA recipients wait for the decision that will determine their ability to legally remain in the country.

“It’s like a squirrel putting away its nuts,” Jimenez said. “You never know when winter is going to come.”

Have a news tip? Contact: [email protected]; 407-420-5354; @LMariaGarza.

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