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Many Young Immigrants In Tennessee Remain In Legal Limbo Despite U.S. Supreme Court’s DACA Ruling

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Out of Rodrigo’s three kids, his middle son is in the most unique situation.

The youngest is a U.S. citizen and the oldest a DACA recipient. But the middle kid is not authorized to be in the country.

“It’s frustrating,” Rodrigo told WPLN News in Spanish. “You don’t want to feel like you are living in the shadows.”

Rodrigo, who didn’t want his last name used because of his immigration status, says his kid has been without a legal status since he arrived in the U.S., and when he was about to apply for DACA in 2017, President Donald Trump announced he was ending the program.

So, when the highest court upheld the program a few months ago, Rodrigo’s son was eager to apply.

“This kid is very smart and he really liked school,” Rodrigo said. “So, when we heard he could apply, we got very excited.”

Rodrigo said he was happy because this meant the son could start college; the son has always been good at school.

In June, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld legal protections for thousands of participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, best known as DACA, many in Tennessee celebrated it as a victory.

But, thousands of young immigrants in the state are still in a legal limbo, despite meeting all the criteria to be part of the program. That’s because, after the latest ruling, theadministration announced it was going to reject all first-time applications for DACA.

That means only those who have had DACA before would be considered. Bethany Jackson, the legal director with Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors, says that has left many people confused.

“There’s that whole universe of people who qualify, or otherwise eligible but they are not able to apply right now,” Jackson said.

According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, about 5,300 Tennesseans are eligible for DACA but shut out from applying. Jackson said that, at this point, there’s not a lot they can do.

“We need a legislative solution, and we need for people to understand why that’s important and to lobby members of Congress,” Jackson said.

And she added that she doesn’t think that’s going to happen with the current Congress

Meanwhile, Rodrigo is hoping for a change, and he says he will keep telling his son not to lose his faith: Someday, he will be like his siblings, working in this country without the need to hide.

“He tells me, ‘Dad, I want to be like my other friends, I want to work,'” Rodrigo said. “And I tell him, ‘Mijo, that’s not possible. Not yet.”

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.