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'Good Enough To Continue': DACA Recipient And Immigration Lawyer Reflect On Supreme Court Decision

Juan Conde, a first-year medical student at UVM, speaks to reporters about how the DACA program allowed him to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor.
Kathleen Masterson
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VPR
Juan Conde, a medical student at UVM, speaks to reporters in 2017 about how the program allowed him to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor.

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down two major rulings in the last few weeks: one protecting LGBTQ employees from workplace discrimination, and another preserving DACA, a program that protects more than 600,000 so-called "DREAMers" from deportation. In this recorded conversation, we look at what the DACA ruling means for the country and how it personally affects one Vermont DACA recipient. 

Our guests are:

  • Leslie Holman, a Burlington immigration attorney
  • Juan Conde, a DACA recipient and med student at UVM’s Larner College of Medicine

Interested in hearing more about both of the Supreme Court’s landmark decisions?  To read from the first segment of the show, where we spoke with UVM Professor Lisa Holmes who specializes in American judicial law about what these decisions mean for the country and the trajectory of the court, head here.

Or, listen to the full show here, where we talk with an expert in judicial politics, Vermonters fighting for immigrant and LGBTQ rights and individuals personally impacted by the rulings.

Keep an eye out for more stories on Vermont Public Radio's home page over the next week.

Broadcast live on Tuesday, June 23, 2020.

The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.

"I know certainty will be a very wonderful thing to have. We've never had that certainty. We've always had to kind of struggle in the shadows. So, I think it's kind of holding on, just kind of giving us a little bit of time. I think certainly it may not feel like it's good enough for a lot of people, but it's good enough to continue." - Juan Conde, DACA Recipient

Jane Lindholm: What was your reaction when you heard the Supreme Court ruling that said the Trump administration cannot end the DACA program right now?

Juan Conde: I was very, very surprised, pleasantly surprised. And I was very happy to hear that Justice Roberts sided with the liberal justices. We were sort of expecting the opposite to happen.

Were you just expecting that because you sort of have to prepare yourself for the worst possibility?

No, I think knowing the composition of the court, we were kind of thinking that regardless of administrative law, that the justices were going to side against us.

More from VPR: Despite Risk, UVM Medical Student Comes Forward To Defend DACA Program

So at first some thought of this as a win. But then it's not really a win because it doesn't actually give DACA recipients any more security to know what their future is. How does that feel to you as someone who is part of this program?

I understand that, but I always think of this as a Band-Aid, as a way to give us a little bit more time. Ever since the DACA program started we've been able to basically advance our goals in life and are able to be productive members of society because of the protections that DACA gives us, by basically allowing us to work legally and to advance our studies. We always knew that DACA was a temporary solution. We always understood that it was up to Congress to be able to pass a more permanent solution. So just knowing that we have a little bit more time is a very wonderful feeling.

It is? Do you still feel like you have some stability to move forward with your future?

I will say that stability and certainty have never actually been provided to us. One of the things that I told several DACA members, when the administration was originally trying to take away the program is - and they wondered well - what should we do? Should we still try to apply [ourselves, with] what is going on? One of the things that I said was: We've always had this uncertainty, and that hasn't stopped us. Before DACA we were actually in a worse place. We couldn’t drive, we couldn't legally work. We were frustrated because a lot of times, despite academic achievements we were unable to advance to professional programs.

Now we still have a little bit more protection. With what we're going through now, we're still in a better place than before when we basically were against the wall with little hope of anything changing. We'll still pull through this. We’ll still continue our studies. We’ll try to find ways to advance our goals. So now with DACA still being here at least we're thinking for another year, it gives us time. Maybe there will be a different administration. Maybe this program will still be available. Maybe Congress may be able to act.

So, I know certainty will be a very wonderful thing to have. We've never had that certainty. We've always had to kind of struggle in the shadows. So, I think it's kind of holding on, just kind of giving us a little bit of time. I think certainly it may not feel like it's good enough for a lot of people, but it's good enough to continue.

Juan, you didn't grow up in Vermont, I understand you were born in Mexico, you grew up in Texas. What brought you here?

My brother and I came to the U.S. when I was nine years old. I grew up all my life in Texas. When we came in, we learned a new language. We learned to sing The Star-Spangled Banner. We learned to call this our home. When I was doing my studies, my mother passed away from cancer. And when I was trying to decide on what I wanted to do with my life, I decided I really wanted to be a physician. However, at that time, I couldn't even apply to any medical school programs in the country. So I changed my goals to, rather than become a physician, become a researcher, to study cancer. And I got my Master's. And I obtained my doctorate in research with tobacco smokers. And then DACA happened in 2014. And schools started to allow DACA students to apply for admission to their programs. And the University of Vermont, the Larner College of Medicine, followed suit very early in 2015. So when I was finishing my grad school, my doctorate, I still wanted to be a physician because I really wanted to be able to treat cancer patients.

Class of 2021 UVM Larner College of Medicine student Juan Conde, center, with Assistant Professor of Medicine and Assistant Dean for Students Shaden Eldakar-Hein, M.D. (left) and Class of 2021 medial student Jack Dubuque, at the UVM Medical Center in Octo
Credit David Seaver
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Class of 2021 UVM Larner College of Medicine student Juan Conde, center, with Assistant Professor of Medicine and Assistant Dean for Students Shaden Eldakar-Hein, M.D. (left) and Class of 2021 medial student Jack Dubuque, at the UVM Medical Center in October 2017.

Because it’s difficult, losing a family member to a disease. So I kind of wanted to have the training so that I would be able to help out people who were in similar situations. And I decided, well, I kind of I know it's more school and I know it's a lot more work, but I do want to be a physician. I want to be able to treat cancer patients. So I applied to several different programs, and, of course, I chose this specifically. The progress that we're actually giving us a chance to be able to to attend medical school. And I found that the University of Vermont, turned out to be a very, very good fit. I knew very little about Vermont. I'm from Texas. So I basically did not know what winter meant, but I came here and it's been a wonderful experience. Everyone from the Larner College of Medicine - they've always been supportive. And so I’m just continuing my journey, my studies.

More from VPR: 'We Don't Not Pick Up The Phone': Working As A Community Liason In A Pandemic 

"You know, their allegiance to this country is stronger than most. This is the only home they know." - Leslie Holman, Burlington Immigration Attorney

What was your reaction to the DACA decision, as an immigration attorney who has a major stake in immigration law in this country?

Leslie Holman: Well, in many ways, it absolutely parallels what you heard, because we really did get a limited decision. I will tell you the first reaction was jumping for joy because there was a message that was sent out right away: It's not happening. We're not taking it away. And we started getting emails right away with clapping noises.

But then when you realize that there is really a limited holding here and it paves the way they said, "OK, you guys can do this, you just didn't do it right." And if we'd heard something it was perhaps some silence, but instead there were two immediate tweets from President Trump and Cuccinelli. And they said, "We're going to keep moving forward."

And so, the idea is that Trump would put forward a new plan to end DACA. But a lot of people think there's not enough time to do that before the November election.

And that certainly is the hope, that if nothing else, it will bide its time through November. And depending on what happens, that is the fix. It’s still sending a message and it still, unfortunately leaves these kids who may not certainly be kids but certainly these people who consider America their home in continued limbo.

Do you represent any DACA recipients in Vermont?

I've had a few. You know, we have probably one of the smallest numbers [of DACA participants] in the country. But even if it's not an immediate dreamer here, we also have and I have received many calls from them, immediate first and second relatives and cousins. So the family units of many Vermonters, even if it is not an immediate child, have absolutely been affected. And we've been speaking to them.

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Credit Worcester State University, Courtesy 2017
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And so this DACA program was designed to give them a legal way to stay in this country and go to school and have a job and I believe people have to renew it every two years, at least under the original program. Correct?

Exactly. And part of the requirements are that they've gone to high school, they don't have a criminal background. They've been upstanding — I want to use the term citizens but the problem is, they're not, they have no status. And one of the things that has really shown is that the gratitude that these, again, kids, have paid back is unbelievable. They're working. They're on the front line. They're the ones that have the idea of being able to work and help. They've grabbed it and run. And this is their home. You know, their allegiance to this country is stronger than most. This is the only home they know.

More from NPR: 'Sigh Of Relief' Or 'Slippery Slope': Advocates and Opponents React To DACA Ruling

So, what's next for you in in terms of advocacy and what you'd like to see happen, given that there's still a very big open question about what happens with this program?

Of course, one of the things the Trump administration could have done is taken this decision and said, you know what? We don't have to do anything. In fact, we can broaden DACA, we can help these kids. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened. Ideally and really our only fix is a Congressional fix, because I will tell you and studies have shown that the idea of living with this uncertainty is awful. I know that from people who have status and are not yet citizens. The idea that there is an anvil hanging over your head, even invisible, is horrific. It really takes a mental toll.

More from NPR's Codeswitch: The Undocumented Americans

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