By Diego San Luis Ortega
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it. We all fear for the health of our families and anxiously await new information to help us weather this crisis. But some of us are also anxiously awaiting a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
At any time, the Court could issue a decision on the Trump administration’s attempts to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA has provided temporary deportation relief to almost 800,000 people who came to the United States as children. California’s Central Valley is home to more than 20,000 DACA recipients who could face detention and deportation if the Trump administration prevails.
I am a Central Valley Californian and a DACA recipient. I was born in Vera, Veracruz, a coastal area near the Gulf of Mexico. I came to the United States at the age of two with my parents in hopes of finding a better life. I first arrived in the Santa Ana area and then moved to the Central Valley to escape the busy city life.
I didn’t find out I was undocumented until I was in the eighth grade when a teacher of mine offered me a summer job. DACA has given me the ability to work and some measure of security.
As I wait for the Supreme Court to issue a decision, I can’t help but think about the uncertainty and anxiety that my community is facing at this time. Here in the Central Valley, I am working with the Pan Valley Institute of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), United We Dream and people across the United States to fight for DACA recipients. The pandemic has exposed how high those stakes are—the very lives of DACA recipients rest on what the Court decides.
I got involved with the AFSC in 2019, when I was fortunate enough to be picked to go on a delegation to Washington, D.C., to hear the oral arguments for DACA at the Supreme Court. While I was in D.C., I met more wonderful people from across the country. They made me feel as if I was at home and welcomed me with open arms. From then on, I knew I had found somewhere I truly belonged.
The San Joaquin Valley, a region known as the breadbasket of the world for its billion-dollar agricultural industry, is also rife with economic inequalities. We work with diverse groups of immigrants and refugees, including farmworkers and DACA recipients.
In the face of Covid-19, this demographic is even more vulnerable because so many of us are essential workers—in fields, restaurants, daycares, dairies and healthcare. Many of our parents are farmworkers. Central Valley DACA recipients and our families are keeping our community fed and safe during these uncertain times. Yet we are left out of much of the federal government’s response to the crisis.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, normal life has turned upside down. Before the outbreak, I worked two jobs, one in retail at a clothing store and one at a fast-food chain. As only essential jobs stayed open, I am unable to work at the retail store. My fast-food job allows me to earn some money, but I have had my hours and income cut drastically.
My biggest fear is bringing the virus home to my family. Because of social distancing guidelines, I have spent most of my time at home, only leaving when we need to buy food and basic hygiene products. Both of my parents are still working. I fear for them more than I fear for myself because they are getting older.
Every day, we see people struggling to support their families while wondering if they will lose the stability that DACA work permits offer. In the times of Covid-19, it is immoral that the Trump administration wants to make life even harder for us.
The Supreme Court should not issue a decision in such uncertain times. If the Court supports the administration’s termination of DACA, almost 800,000 of young people like me will lose our jobs. Our families will be left without access to necessary health services due to lack of financial resources, and the inability to obtain care will mean more affected individuals are unaware that they should self-quarantine, putting everyone at risk.
With a worldwide pandemic ongoing and no relief in sight, it would be catastrophic if the Court made a ruling now. The country is in a state of emergency, and DACA recipients are among the first responders, cooks and teachers who are putting themselves on the frontlines to make sure people are safe and fed during these times of uncertainty. If the Court rules in favor of Trump, a good portion of the workforce fighting this pandemic is gone.
People’s lives are in limbo. If I could say something to the Courts, it would be “do the right thing and hold off on this. Do the right thing and keep DACA in place.”
Diego San Luis Ortega was born in Vera, Veracruz. He was constantly falling ill, so his parents brought him to the United States at age two in search of medical treatment. He was raised in the Central Valley and became active in politics during his time at College of the Sequoias. His activism increased when Donald Trump came into office and threatened to eliminate DACA. He is a volunteer with the American Friends Service Committee’s Pan Valley Institute.