TAMPA — Maylin Rodriguez-Ramos had to adapt to the coronavirus like all college students did, hunkering down for online learning at her small apartment on Armenia Avenue.
But unlike most students, the 20-year-old political science major at the University of South Florida faced the added anxiety of Trump administration efforts to send home students like her who were brought to the United States illegally as children.
She breathed a sigh of relief when the Supreme Court ruled against the administration, saying it had failed to follow rule-making procedures when it tried to end the program that enables her to stay here — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA.
But her legal roller-coaster ride kicked in again when the administration announced July 28 that renewals under the program would be limited to one year at a time instead of two and that no new applications will be accepted.
“It has been very difficult to digest all this news in such a short time,” Rodriguez-Ramos said. ”I feel heartbroken because many of us think that this could be the last time.”
The deferred-action program, started in 2012 with an executive order from the Obama administration, enables about 660,000 young, undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” to stay here while working and going to college. It does not provide a path to citizenship or voting.
The program is open to those brought to the United States before they were 16, have lived here at least five years and have a clean legal record. It provides recipients a Social Security number and enables them to work legally. The program also makes Rodriguez-Ramos eligible for a Florida driver’s license.
Rodriguez-Ramos came to the United States from Honduras at 4 and knew about her immigration status before she graduated from high school and began looking at colleges.
Rodriguez-Ramos said she must renew her deferred-action standing in May 2021. The fee is $495. When she submitted her second application, she covered the costs of the process with money she saved working at a part-time job. For her first application, her parents hired a lawyer so the process could be done correctly, as they were unaware of how it went.
She hopes to see the program continue.
“It is a cycle that never ends,” she said. “That is why I believe that we need a definitive solution for all of us who are in this and for those who come after us."
Cutting renewals from two years to one is a move many immigrant advocates expected, said Ted Hutchinson, Florida director for FWD.us — a bipartisan organization working to reform immigration and criminal justice systems that was founded by business and tech leaders including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
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“We saw it coming,” said Hutchinson. “But we will continue to insist that an agreement be reached. There is a lot to do but I’m optimistic.“
In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, the Trump administration is reviewing justifications for eliminating the deferred-action program and notes that it faces other challenges in federal courts. The administration says the program encourages smuggling and illegal border crossings, creating problems in law enforcement, child welfare and border security.
Italia Rico-Hurtado, 29, another deferred-action program participant, said dreamers should be seen for their commitment and advancement and not as an unwanted burden to the country.
Rico-Hurtado, an anthropologist, recently graduated with honors from private Rollins College in Winter Park. She hopes to study now for a master’s degree in public health. She was 8 when she came to the United States with her parents from Colombia because of unrest and struggling economy there.
“I discovered myself, as a person and a student,” she said. “I knew that dreams are not impossible and everything can be achieved with effort.”
Her family worked to become involved in the life and culture of their adopted country.
“I was a little girl and I believed that everything was fine,” Rico-Hurtado said.
She works as a spokeswoman for the Hispanic Federation, a nonprofit based in Central Florida that seeks to empower and strengthen Latino families and institutions. She encourages immigrants to register and vote and take a more active role in public matters.
“It is a very important issue because people must have a voice. We have great potential.”
Adonia Simpson, a lawyer for the Miami-based immigrant rights group Americans for Immigrant Justice, said dreamers are worried at how many years have passed with the deferred-action program still on shaky ground.
“The difficulty about DACA is that it was never a permanent solution,” said Simpson. “It was a response to deliver a new path.”