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AUSTIN, Texas — Diego Corzo, who owns nine homes and runs his own realty business, paid $33,000 in taxes last year and expects to pay as much or more in future years if the country lets him remain here.
Corzo is enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that was the center of a court hearing Wednesday in Texas where Republican state leaders sued to get the Obama-era program wiped out. The program allows undocumented young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to apply to work and study in the U.S. without fear of deportation; the applications have to be renewed every two years.
“A lot of people think DACA recipients, we don’t pay taxes and we leach off the system,” Corzo said. “If I can pay $33,000 (in taxes) as a 27-year-old and you take that away, I’m probably not going to be able to contribute as much if I am not able to do what I am fully capable of doing."
The Trump administration began shutting down DACA last year, but a New York and San Francisco court forced those plans to be put on hold. Then last Friday, a federal judge from the District of Columbia followed and ordered the federal government to restore the program.
The Texas hearing on the state's request for an injunction could be the spoiler in the string of judicial victories for those waging the court fights to keep the temporary deportation protection and work permits the program provides in place.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen did not issue a ruling in the court in Houston on Wednesday. He asked attorneys to submit additional five-page briefs on whether DACA is illegal because the Obama administration did not put it through the federal regulatory process before implementing it, said Nina Perales, an attorney for Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
MALDEF is the lawyer for 22 DACA recipients who intervened in the case since the federal government is in agreement with the state.
The Texas effort to have DACA declared unconstitutional adds to the already complex legal decisions and actions on DACA. If Hanen's decision conflicts with other court rulings, it will all have to be sorted out by the U.S. Supreme Court or an appeals court, said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF, after the three-hour hearing.
For DACA recipients, uncertainty
The uncertainty leaves Corzo trying to anticipate what could become of his real estate business and whether the U.S. citizen he employs and the contractors that spruce up the homes he sells will be left without a job or see business cuts as well. Last year he and his business partner sold 85 homes and he’s hoping to sell 100 this year, he said.
“I could still own my business, but I wouldn’t be able to drive. I wouldn’t feel safe. I own nine homes. By having my DACA taken away, I wouldn’t be able to continue investing,” said Corzo, who is originally from Peru and came to the U.S. when he was 9 with his parents.
With no way to show he is authorized to be in the U.S. if his DACA status is rescinded, Corzo said he isn’t sure how he’ll qualify for loans to for home purchases for his business.
“I am feeling uneasy, of course. There is fear,” Corzo said. “I don’t know what is going to happen in the coming months.”
One issue in the case is whether Texas is suffering any economic fallout or costs from allowing DACA recipients to live and work in the state. Perales said Texas was not able to find evidence that DACA recipients were costing the state money.
"In fact, the evidence in the case is that by being able to live and work and participate in civic society and the economy that Texas overall is better off with DACA recipients," Perales said in a news conference outside the federal courthouse in Houston.
In a statement after the hearing, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said DACA is unconstitutional "because it rewrote federal law over the objections of Congress." He said the program "represents a dangerous view of executive power, which would allow the president to set aside any duly enacted law."
Texas is joined in the suit by attorneys general from Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia, and the governors of Maine and Mississippi.
A "roller coaster" of emotions
Yatziri Tovar, 27, of Brooklyn, New York, said she’s been experiencing a “roller coaster of emotions” amid the back and forth on DACA. Tovar, part of the communications team of the advocacy group Make the Road New York, came to the United States when she was 2 from Mexico City. Her family is a mix of U.S. citizens and some lack legal status.
Tovar said her DACA status helped her obtain a college degree in political science, as well as a driver's license and a job. She said she is bolstered by the court rulings that have favored DACA recipients and daily funnels energy to fight for a congressional solution on immigration.
But she acknowledged there are moments her fears seep in.
“I think there are times where the work gets exhausting, the work of not knowing what will happen next, having to anticipate the decisions by the judges and the court hearings,” Tovar said. “You sit back and think, why can’t we have legislation passed. We’ve been fighting for the Dream Act for 17 years.
“It does get overwhelming,” she continued. “There’s so much stuff that attaches me to this country," Tovar said, describing herself as a New Yorker. "That’s when I’m able to go back to my community and friends and say, ‘Don’t give up.’”