PHOENIX — Reyna Montoya’s hands get sweaty and her throat feels like it’s closing just talking about the anxiety of every Monday this spring.
The immigrant rights activist who’s shielded from deportation and allowed to legally work in the U.S. under an Obama-era program sets a 6 a.m. alarm so she’s alert when the latest Supreme Court decision may be posted online about an hour later.
Montoya, like 650,000 others enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, is waiting for the justices to release their decision on President Donald Trump’s attempt to end the protections. The high court heard arguments last fall and typically releases rulings on Mondays in the spring. But it’s unclear exactly when an answer will come because the court sometimes issues decisions on other days as work wraps up for the summer.
“My gut hurts,” said Montoya, 29, who is originally from Mexico but has grown up in the Phoenix area. “It’s this constant level of anxiety.”
Montoya’s advocacy group, Aliento, provides arts and healing workshops for other DACA recipients who struggle with not knowing their fate. She openly talks about going to therapy to quell her anxiety. The toll of the unknown — of who will take care of her financial assets, her mortgage — weighs heavy.
“When you actually pause and think about all the things you need to think about, it’s very daunting,” said Montoya, who sometimes feels guilty because others also have children to worry about.
Under intense pressure from young activists, then-President Barack Obama announced DACA in 2012. Commonly known as “Dreamers” after the failed legislation that would have provided a path to citizenship, these immigrants have been in the U.S. since they were children. Recipients went through extensive background screening to get two-year work permits and protection from deportation.
The Trump administration in 2017 announced the end of the program, resulting in legal challenges now in the hands of the Supreme Court. Those already enrolled still have protections and can renew their two-year permits, but nobody new can join.
Like Montoya, Adrián Escárate has woken up early most Mondays this year. The 31-year-old, who’s originally from Chile but has been in the U.S. since he was 3, immediately grabs his phone or computer and starts scrolling a blog that tracks Supreme Court rulings.
Escárate, who’s living in Santa Cruz, California, checks in with friends on a group message and keeps refreshing Twitter and the blog.
“When it hasn’t come down, you kind of breathe a sigh of relief and say, ‘OK, we’re good for this week,’” said Escárate, who’s been part of DACA since 2014 and is a communications coordinator for immigrant rights organization Define American.
Escárate said it’s hard to think about what life will be like if the high court sides with Trump. He’s protected until 2022, and he hopes that if the program does end, the court will allow people to keep their permits until they expire.
It’s not clear how the Trump administration would end the program, but the high court’s conservative majority seems supportive of allowing him to do so.
Immigration authorities have said they would deport any DACA recipients who have an existing immigration court case. At a congressional hearing Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, asked a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official about the potential deportation of DACA recipients if the Supreme Court sides with Trump.
Henry Lucero, head of ICE removal operations, said “there is no plan or current planning for that situation” but that the agency carries out lawful removal orders as directed. That means thousands of previously protected immigrants, including many who work in the health care industry, could be kicked out of the country, possibly during the coronavirus pandemic.
Some households could also lose their sole providers, like Joella Roberts, whose mother doesn’t have legal status and whose grandmother is ill.
The 22-year-old, who lives in Washington, D.C., and is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, just finished college and got her first post-graduation job as a university program coordinator for FWD.us, a bipartisan organization advocating for criminal justice and immigration reform.
Roberts was approved for DACA in 2015, which helped her support her family and pay her way through college.
She says the pandemic and now keeping up with nationwide protests over police brutality and racial injustice have disrupted her sleep, but the nights before Supreme Court decision days are particularly bad. Roberts says she never sleeps Sunday nights and spends Monday mornings waiting for an update.
Many black DACA recipients rely on her for the latest information, she said.
“It’s caused me to lean full fledged into knowledge. However, it does give me an unwanted sense of responsibility because I will in fact have to work, have to be put together,” Roberts said. “You never really know how you’re going to react or how you’re going to feel, and so you just brace yourself for whatever comes.”
Associated Press reporter Ben Fox in Washington contributed to this report.