Immigrant rights activist Hareth Andrade's life went on hold at the exact moment her sister walked across the stage to receive her high school diploma.
It had nothing to do with the happy scene of her sister's graduation, rather a text message that vibrated her phone at the same instant.
It was a message she had been expecting, but one she hoped would never come: The Supreme Court had failed to uphold President Obama's Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), and with it her parents' hopes of getting legal status in the United States.
“Last Wednesday was a pretty long day for me and my family,” Andrade, 23, told me during a phone interview. “I was constantly refreshing my phone, my alert systems, checking Twitter but mostly Facebook. Nothing was happening so I thought [the ruling] would maybe come later in the day. I got the news as I was filming my sister on the graduation stage.”
“After my sister got called and received her diploma I told my parents. There wasn’t a lot I could say. My grandmother didn’t understand much and my parents were trying to keep the mood high for my sister," says Andrade. "After congratulating [my sister] I told her. It was a hard moment. But she said, ‘Let’s not be too sad about it.’ I definitely felt it later on, when I was by myself. It just seemed so unfair.”
Andrade, who was brought to the U.S. from Bolivia to live with her grandparents when she was 8 years old, said her family had spent months planning on getting work permits and buying a house. Andrade and her two sisters— one a DREAMer and the other a U.S.-born citizen— had also helped their parents gather the necessary documents to apply for DAPA, keeping their fingers crossed that the Supreme Court would rule in their favor.
But the no-decision means DAPA is dead in the water, and so too is the family's ability to make plans.
Andrade, however, says she’s been through worse. And it’s times like these when clinging to hope is most important. It was hope, after all, that helped Andrade fight against her dad’s deportation four years ago.
In 2012, Andrade helped lead a grassroots campaign to raise support for her father, who one night got stopped by a police, charged with a DUI, and quickly put into deportation proceedings at an ICE detention center.
“We were shocked. I had been on the road fighting for immigration rights, but I just couldn’t believe it was actually happening to me,” she said.
But her dad’s immigration trial became a cause célèbre among Latinos in her hometown of Arlington, Virginia. She says the family went to court four times, and after two years and thousands of signatures and petitions from the local community, ICE closed its case on Andrade's father and allowed him remain in the U.S.
“After my dad was detained we all became hypersensitive to the immigration cause,” she told me. “I had always given speeches about deportations, given presentations about detention centers, but after this experience it all became part of me. It was no longer a duty. It became part of my story, my feelings.”
The Supreme Court’s decision last week, which blocks the expansion of DACA and the implementation of DAPA, is a painful reminder that both her parents are still unable to come out of the shadows. The struggle continues.
“I can’t help but think what could happen if my mother gets sick later in life and she doesn’t have health care,” Andrade told me.
But she says DREAMers have to keep their heads high this election year, no matter what. After all, they’re the ones who can stand up and fight for the immigration cause without fear of deportation.
The next government has to do better, she said, adding that she's extremely disappointed by Obama’s record on deportations.
“It will be tough standing beside a candidate, there have been many broken promises. But we still have to fight," she said. "We are not in a position to believe or not believe— we just need to keep fighting regardless of that.”
“This won’t be a lost opportunity,” she insists.