Cirenio Cervantes can take a breath now, knowing he’ll be able to keep working toward his dream — apply to a medical school, become a doctor and work in low-income communities.
Cervantes and immigrants who share his status as so-called “dreamers” had been targeted by President Donald Trump for deportation. On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Trump administration’s efforts to end the legal protections they receive under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or DACA.
Cervantes, 26, of Mulberry, came with his parents from the Mexican state of Guerrero when he was 7. He was accepted into the deferred action program in 2013, using his legal status to study for two years at Hillsborough Community College and for two years at the University of South Florida.
“It is a pleasure and a relief for us who have been waiting for this moment, and for our families and friends who have supported us every minute,” Cervantes said. “We can breathe. We can get up. We can speak without fear. We have a new opportunity to continue meeting the goals we have set for ourselves.”
Introduced during the Obama administration, the deferred action program allows certain undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children before 2007 to apply for renewable, two-year work permits that protect them from deportation and allow them to work legally. It provides no path to citizenship for the estimated 660,000 people under its protection.
Another deferred action participant is Nanci Palacios, 31, of Dover, deputy director of Faith in Florida. The nonprofit works with immigrants and others living in poverty.
“It is a great joy for me that the Supreme Court has decided in favor of the community,” said Palacios, who came to the United States with her parents from Mexico at age 6. “We have all waited with great anxiety for this decision.”
Palacios said she prayed every day that the program would remain in place.
“We were preparing for the worst and I was praying for the court to favor us,” she said. “This shows us that when the community struggles and when it does not remain silent, good things can happen for everyone.”
Palacios said the ruling provides encouragement to continue advocating for immigrants. In 2011, she co-founded United We Dream: Tampa Bay a group that helps undocumented immigrant students find educational opportunities.
“We know that there must be a permanent solution with a path to citizenship, but in the meantime we must maintain DACA because we have the option of being able to work and live without any fear.”
Joshua Contreras, 23, of Clearwater, who entered the deferred action program in 2012, sees hope in the ruling by the Supreme Court.
“Today, we celebrate with pride and tears of happiness,” said Contreras, who came to the United States with his family at age 8. “But tomorrow, we have to continue fighting not only for those protected under DACA program but for all the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are waiting for an opportunity to resolve their situation.”
He, too, is spurred by the ruling to redouble his advocacy for immigrants.
“I am inspired by all the activism that we are seeing as a community. It has worked because the Supreme Court has finally heard us.”