HOUSTON (Reuters) - After days of hauling out ruined furniture and ripping up sodden carpets from her family’s flooded home in southeastern Houston, Jessica Perales, 21, received another blow on Tuesday: news that her temporary protection from deportation will soon end unless Congress takes action.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration was phasing out DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program that enabled some 800,000 young men and women brought to the country illegally as children to work legally.
The announcement left so-called Dreamers around the country reeling. But in Houston, where people are still digging out from the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, the news hit particularly hard. Some 100,000 DACA recipients live in Texas.
“Materially (Houston) will take it harder and I think psychologically (Houston) will take it harder,” said Dona Murphey, a local organizer in Texas with the advocacy group United We Dream.
Perales said the announcement creates more anxiety for her family as they assess their post-storm options and try to replace what was lost in the flooding, all the time knowing that she and her older brother stand to lose their employment authorization.
“This just makes everything more difficult, Perales said. “Now I can work and help them with some of the bills.”
The decision cuts off all new applications for the DACA program and will soon stop allowing DACA participants to renew their status, which must be reapproved every two years.
The Perales family came to the United States from Monterrey, Mexico 14 years ago, and both Perales and her older brother applied for and were granted protection under DACA after they had turned 16, the age at which immigrants can first apply for the program.
When Harvey hit, Perales and her family had to wade out of their home in chest-high water carrying her little brother, Jesus, 14, who has cerebral palsy and cannot walk on his own. She said the family may have to abandon the house they just moved into, because the collapsing ceiling and warped and molding floors would be bad for her brother’s health.
The decision by President Donald Trump to end the program leaves the door open for Congress to enact legislation that would continue to protect DACA recipients, although the Republican Party, which controls both houses, has long struggled to agree on immigration reform.
(For a graphic on DACA click here: tmsnrt.rs/2wC83sF)
Perales, who has worked as a teacher in a program at her church, recently submitted her application for renewal. The administration said it would continue to process applications received by Oct. 5 for people whose DACA protections will expire by March 5. Those up for renewal after that date will not be able to reapply unless Congress takes action.
Perales’ 24-year-old brother Luis, whose DACA protection is up for renewal in November, was still getting his paperwork together to reapply when the storm hit. He was also trying to raise the nearly $500 he needs for the application by selling an old truck for scrap metal.
Speaking while cleaning out the family’s ruined home, Luis said he was concerned about keeping his job at an oil refinery, where he does maintenance work. He recently married a legal U.S. resident who is working on getting her citizenship, so he may eventually be able to gain legal residency through her. He currently supports the couple.
It is all the uncertainty that has their mother, Guillermena Rodriguez, 49, worried about her children’s future.
“This is their only hope for getting better jobs, jobs that pay well. We brought them here when they were little and they don’t remember anything about Mexico,” Rodriguez said, speaking by phone from the home of church friends who have taken in the family as they decide what to do in Harvey’s wake.
“Everything came over us all at once, the storm and the news about this program. It’s too much.”
For the Houston Dreamers, “it’s been hurricane after hurricane,” said Javier Huamani, a 26-year-old DACA recipient from Peru who graduated from University of Texas Austin and works as an engineer at a large oil and gas company.
Huamani, who has lived in the country since he was 8 years old and is considering getting a PhD in engineering, said it had been hard for him to make long-term plans.
He is most worried about how to make sure he can continue to help support his mother, who works as a waitress at a restaurant, and his father, who is a chef at a retirement home. His father stayed for four days at the home during the storm to help feed the residents who were trapped there.
“It’s not just my life on the line, it’s my parents as well,” he said.
Huamani and other DACA recipients who weren’t as badly hit by the storm turned out to volunteer at the convention center-turned shelter in downtown Houston on Friday to help Spanish-speaking storm survivors access services.
Even Jessica Perales, who had her own flooded home to deal with, volunteered her time to sort through clothing donations last week to help other victims.
Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Sue Horton and Ross Colvin