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Undocumented immigrant Ana Flores checks her email on the University of Texas campus in Austin. (Swathi Narayanan)
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AUSTIN, Texas — Ana Flores was 11 years old when she moved from Mexico to Texas. Her older sister had come to America to study and decided to stay on even though she lacked the visa needed to live permanently in the U.S. Meanwhile, Flores’ single mother wanted to live with her three children in the same country, so she decided to relocate to Texas as well. Ana had no say in it. Her mother made the decision.

Six months after moving to the U.S., Flores’ visitor’s visa expired, too. Since then, life has been a struggle for Flores, now 20, who has grown up as an undocumented immigrant in America. She has had no social security number, no identity in the eyes of the U.S. government.

‘Less like a shadow’

In 2012, President Obama announced that the U.S. would not deport certain undocumented immigrants who have been living in the country from their childhood. His program was called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA.

“It helped us by giving us hope,” said Flores, who was among 88,000 people in Texas who were recipients of DACA. “We could still be deported, but at least we can get a Social Security number that can grant us a Texas ID. DACA made me feel less like a shadow.”

While DACA does not grant full legal status to live and work in America, it opened up a new world of opportunities for Flores. She now has a two-year work permit, she can apply for a driver’s license, and she can take a flight out of Texas to visit other U.S. cities without the fear of deportation. Her hard work in school earned her a scholarship to study at the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business. Flores is also the coordinator of the DREAM Educational Empowerment Program (DEEP) in Austin. She works with undocumented immigrant students, their parents and teachers to ensure that the students get equal opportunity to study and graduate.

She is now working two jobs to support herself and is determined to graduate.

“I want to show that, as students, we are able to handle coursework and also help our community,” said Flores. “I want to show others how much work we can take on.”

Courts side with Texas AG to stop programs

In 2014, Obama passed another executive order. This time he introduced the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, or DAPA, that allowed undocumented immigrants who have children that are U.S. citizens to apply for a three-year work permit. He also announced an expanded DACA that allows undocumented immigrants who qualify to get a three-year work permit rather than a two-year permit as previously allowed by DACA. Flores qualified for the expanded DACA and her sister for the DAPA program, since she has four children who were born in the U.S.

Later, in December 2014, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a lawsuit in the Southern District court of Texas to block both DAPA and the newly expanded DACA. The court issued a temporary injunction that stopped the two programs. The Department of Justice appealed the injunction in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, but the court ruled against the DOJ in November.

This ruling has a direct impact on immigration laws, Flores, her family and more than a million undocumented immigrants living in Texas. Flores can no longer apply for expanded DACA, and her sister cannot get the benefits of DAPA.

“My sister qualifies for DAPA since she has four children,” she said. “I want them to have that security and not be scared even to drive.”

“What it means is those who do not qualify for DAPA have to continue to live in fear of deportation, of being separated from their loved ones, of being vulnerable to exploitation by their employers,” said Mary Moreno, communications director of the Texas Organizing Project that has been campaigning for immigration reforms.

One of the grounds of the lawsuit against DAPA and the extended DACA was the cost the government would incur in issuing driver’s licenses and granting work permits to the immigrants. Professor Denise Gilman, director of the Immigration Clinic at UT Austin, dismisses this concern.

“The way the courts analyzed the issue was really about the $30 or so that it costs to issue each driver’s license,” said Gilman. “In fact, estimates indicate that there would be $300 million dollars in tax revenues (to Texas), and that is just tax revenue. That is not additional purchasing power for families who are able to be more stable income earners and thus robust contributors to purchasing into the economy.”

The road ahead

President Obama has said he will appeal the ruling of the New Orleans court in the Supreme Court. If the court does not make a decision by the time a new administration takes charge in 2017, there is a chance the undocumented immigrants will be in limbo once again.

Gilman suggests more Americans should think about immigration issues because they have both an economic and human impact.

“It is the right thing to do,” Gilman said. “We must allow them to regularize their status, to keep families together and to treat people with human dignity and respect.”

Meanwhile, Flores is hopeful.

“If the case goes to the Supreme Court, it will gain more attention, and we may make history,” she said.