Each night before a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Odalis Gonzalez had nightmares.
In one, she was watching the news in a dark room. The TV screen said something about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a federal program that protects Gonzalez from deportation and gives her permission to work — but she couldn’t tell what the news meant. On Wednesday night, she dreamed TSA agents stopped her while she was trying to travel, because she is undocumented.
“Every night before a decision night I dread going to sleep because of the nightmares,” she said. “That’s how stressful it is to know your future, and your life, depends on (the Supreme Court).”
Gonzalez, 21, is a rising senior at the University of Notre Dame, who grew up in American Falls. She came to the United States from Tijuana, Mexico, when she was 3 years old and is one of roughly 3,000 Idahoans protected by DACA, an Obama-era rule that allows undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to live and work legally.
President Trump has for years attempted to “wind down” the program, a move that sparked legal battles and landed the case on the 2020 Supreme Court docket.
For months, Gonzalez and other DACA recipients, or “Dreamers,” watched for the decision that would spell out their fate.
It landed Thursday. In a surprise 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that Trump had improperly dismantled DACA and that the program’s protections remain — for now.
Gonzalez was driving to the gym Thursday morning when she got the news.
“DACA stands,” a friend wrote in a text message filled with hearts. She parked her car as her phone started to buzz off the hook. Friends, other DACA recipients and allies shared their joy and excitement.
“I allowed myself to be happy. I felt the stress and the anxiety I’ve felt every day for the past months as I’ve awaited this decision just kind of lift off,” she said. “I felt like I could breathe for a second.”
Chief Justice John Roberts joined four liberal justices on the Supreme Court to sway Thursday’s ruling against the Trump administration. Roberts found that Trump did not follow the proper procedures to dismantle the program — a decision that leaves the door open for another attempt.
That means Thursday’s news is only a temporary relief for Gonzalez and more than 600,000 other people protected under DACA.
The ruling has high stakes for education. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that high school and college students made up 51 percent of the country’s DACA-eligible population in 2014, according to the Hechinger Report. Some 20,000 of the country’s educators are authorized to work under DACA, the Washington Post reported. The program is also key in helping many undocumented students apply for college.
Idaho Education News reached out to state universities and education leaders Thursday for reactions.
“Today’s Supreme Court decision protecting DACA students reinforces the importance of basic human civil rights,” said Yolanda Bisbee, Chief Diversity Officer for the University of Idaho. “This benefits our state as immigrant communities support our agricultural industry that is vital to our state’s economy.”
Boise State University President Marlene Tromp said the ruling ensures students brought to the United States can continue to pursue their education “safely and affordably.”
“We celebrate opportunities to help change our students’ lives so they can bring the full scope of their talents to the world,” Tromp said in a statement.
A State Department of Education spokeswoman said state superintendent Sherri Ybarra was not “in a position to comment” Thursday afternoon, because she hadn’t yet studied the ruling.
Had the Supreme Court upheld Trump’s decision to rescind DACA, Gonzalez said, her protections would have expired one month before she’s set to graduate from Notre Dame next year. She’s not sure what would have happened next.
After the unexpected good news Thursday morning, Gonzalez planned to celebrate with friends and family. To relax, and breathe, and enjoy the victory, if just for one day.
On Friday, she’s back to work. Gonzalez, who works as an intern at the Hispanic Federation in Washington, D.C., plans to educate peers and the public that the DACA fight isn’t over. Dreamers still need legislation that will allow them to gain citizenship, rather than having to rely on DACA for a temporary reprieve from deportation, two years at a time.
“We’re looking to Congress, to say, ‘We got lucky this time, but there shouldn’t be a next time.’ We should be creating a path for DACA and undocumented people,” Gonzalez said.
“We may have won this battle, but the war is not over.”