The floors were still wet when Diana Platas and her family finally got home. The refrigerator was upside down. The washing machine was on top of the boiler. A couch was blocking the front door and all of the furniture was scattered around haphazardly, having been floating around like vacant rafts.
Platas, who is five feet tall, said the highest water line at their northeast Houston home was up to her neck.
“Everything my parents and I worked so hard for, it was all washed up,” she said. “Nothing was salvageable. Everything smelled. I will never forget that smell.”
Over the past week, Platas said she had been so busy helping her family on the long road to recovery — tossing all of their furniture and dressers full of clothing onto the curb — that she did not hear the news that President Donald Trump was considering dismantling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, which shields more than 800,000 young undocumented people who came to the United States as children from deportation. More than 120,000 are in Texas.
Plates and her mom had managed to save important immigration documents from the floodwaters — her mom’s pending visa application, Platas’s own DACA work permit, her ID and Social Security card. But as it turns out, in six months her DACA documents will not be worth anything anyway, unless Congress decides to pass the bipartisan DREAM Act, a DACA-like measure that has failed to pass several times since 2001. On Tuesday, the White House announced DACA would be phased out and expire by March 2018.
And then Platas — like an untold number of DACA recipients badly affected by Harvey — really knew she had lost everything.
“I’m trying to be as strong as I can, but it’s just so hard to believe,” said Platas, who has a full scholarship as a political science student at the University of Houston – Downtown. “It all happened in a flash: Suddenly, not only do I lose my home, but I also lose my legal status. I also lose my rights. It’s just very surreal.”
Trump’s decision to do away with DACA comes after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton threatened to sue the federal government over DACA if the White House didn’t voluntarily shut it down by September 5. Paxton had already argued in a lawsuit that President Barack Obama exceeded his authority when he created DACA’s sister program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, in 2014. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Texas and struck down DAPA in 2014 — and Paxton said this summer that Texas would simply expand that already-existing lawsuit and use the same argument to defeat DACA. On Tuesday, Paxton dismissed it after Trump did as Paxton asked.
Immigration advocates, organizations and public officials including Mayor Sylvester Turner decried Trump’s decision — as well as its ill timing for those in Houston and Texas, already confronting tragedy. At least one DACA recipient, Alonso Guillen, died during Harvey after traveling 100 miles to Houston from Lufkin to assist with high-water rescues. His boat had capsized along Cypress Creek after hitting the bridge over I-45.
“In this city, we are recovering from a massive, unprecedented, historic storm. And in this storm, pretty much all Houstonians were impacted, including individuals who are DACA students or employees,” Turner said at a press conference Wednesday. “They have been impacted, and they are part of the recovery of this city. I cannot imagine at this point in time that we would say no to them when they have said yes to Houston.”
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For Platas, DACA allowed her to get her first job at a fast-food restaurant and start contributing financially in her family, thanks to the work permit. It allowed her to qualify for in-state tuition and academic merit scholarships at UH-Downtown. It allowed her to get an internship at an engineering firm’s finance and human resources office. And it allowed her to get a driver’s license. “A lot of people take that for granted — ‘oh, it’s just an identification,’” Platas said. “For me it was more than that. I was somebody to the state. They can recognize me for who I am, and I can immediately identify myself. That was very special to me.”
Now, she said, it feels as though the government does not care who she is, or who she is becoming.
She said she wants to become an immigration lawyer and go on to law school after she obtains her bachelor’s degree in political science. But she wonders how she will get a job without having legal status, should the DREAM Act fail.
She said she has tried not to talk about the possibility with her parents, hasn’t let them see her cry. She said she knows they already have too much to worry about, as the family shuffles form relative to relative, needing a place to spend the night.