In 2017, East Boston High School’s Valedictorian, Maybelline Perez, gave a powerful speech at that year’s graduation on how Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program allowed her to live a safe life outside of her native El Salvador, succeed in school and begin on a path of higher education at Northeastern University.
Perez was a school leader, the president of the school’s National Honors Society and received a scholarship to Northeastern University. Her parents, Benjamin Pérez and Flora Villatoro, brought Perez and her sibling to the United States in 2010 because they wanted their children to attend school safely without fear of the rampart gang violence.
At her graduation in 2017 Perez told of how gangs tried to extort her family and threatened murder if they didn’t receive money. Perez arrived speaking only a few words of English but rose to be one of the more stellar students to ever walk the halls at East Boston High.
Of the more than forty thousand residents who call East Boston home, over half are from Latin American countries. Of that half a majority hail from El Salvador, and arrived here during their country’s civil war during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Then, another wave arrived to this country and to this neighborhood following a series of devastating earthquakes that rocked El Salvador and killed scores of people in 2001 while others fled the lawless gang violence in their homeland.
The DACA program has helped many Eastie students, like Perez, to fulfill their life goals–goals that may have otherwise been unfulfilled if they stayed in their homeland.
However, one of President Donald Trump’s first orders of business after assuming office was to end the DACA program that allows some individuals with unlawful presence in the United States after being brought to the country as children to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation.
On June 18, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that the way the Trump administration ended DACA was arbitrary and not justified, and therefore violated the Administrative Procedure Act.
SCOTUS’s decision overruled the Trump administration’s ending of DACA, meaning that DACA continues to be in effect.
The news spread far and wide in Eastie last week with thousands of families celebrating SCOTUS’s decision.
“This Supreme Court decision and the one earlier last week that ICE can’t force local law enforcement to share information and turn people over are important victories for our immigrant community,” said City Councilor Lydia Edwards. “Our country is made better by people coming here seeking a better life for themselves and their families and I’m happy that they will have the protections that come with these decisions. DACA is an opportunity to so many young people who are American except for a piece of paper. They are our future military members, doctors, teachers. I am thrilled and surprised by the Supreme Court decisions.”
East Boston Ecummenical Community Council’s (EBECC) Chief Executive Officer Frank Ramirez, whose agency helps immigrant families in Eastie with a whole host of issues, called the decision a tremendous victory for families in Eastie. However, he warned that those who fight for immigrants’s rights should not let their guard down.
“This has been a tremendous victory for DACA “Dreamers” and for the rights of all immigrants here in Eastie and nationwide,” said Ramirez. “The SCOTUS decision determined that DACA is lawful so far, but the administration can still end it. So there is still concern and anxiety in the immigrant community. The SCOTUS may disagree with the rationale for ending DACA, and thus reversed the DACA rescission, but acknowledged that the Trump Administration has discretion to end the program. So they still remain at risk. I suspect the administration could speed up its efforts to rescind DACA on different grounds.”
Ramirez suggested the Trump Administration instead do “what’s right”.
“They should restore DACA and keep it in place while Congress works on a permanent solution,” he said. “That is what we hope for but we are still concerned and therefore we think all sectors of society should protect these young people.”
Ramirez said the private sector can be key in advocating and protecting DACA recipients as employers. Likewise, state and local leaders can advocate to keep these new Americans in their communities that many are employed in professional and paraprofessional capacities.
“In Massachusetts, about 19,000 people were eligible, and another 4,000 could qualify in the future,” said Ramirez. “EBECC has processed more than 500 in the past and we are estimated to process another 300 in the short run here in East Boston. The Covid-19 pandemic creates an incredible need for keeping Dreamers here and we strongly encourage DACA recipients to renew their status, especially if it is due to expire in 2020.”