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Immigrants Wonder What Lies Ahead After Texas Judge Halts Deportation-Relief Program

This week’s decision by a Texas judge to halt President Obama’s deportation-relief program is keeping the Mexican Consulate pretty busy. We stopped by there to find out how officials are responding and what people are saying about this legal setback.

Brenda Benitez was looking forward to turning 15 in November. That’s when she planned to apply for the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allows certain undocumented youth to remain in the U.S. temporarily.

But now, she’s concerned about her parents who are also in the country illegally. She thought they would be allowed to stay under a plan announced by Obama in November.

“Because my parents are both not from here and I thought it was like hope for them to be able to stay here, not illegally,” Brenda said. “And now with that, it kind of scares me a little that at any moment, we could like just be in their [immigration officials] hands.”

Brenda and her dad, Marcial, were waiting in line outside the consulate on Wednesday. They were there to get their passports. Benitez said he’s been in the country for about 10 years and his other children were born in the U.S., making him a candidate for the program known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA.

“For me, amnesty would be good, or any kind of permission to stay is good,” he says in Spanish. “We’ll see what happens.”

Sergio Hayakawa, who works at the Mexican Consulate in Dallas, says the judge’s decision surprised many immigrants he’s talked to. The consulate’s been receiving a lot of calls since Tuesday.

“Because they were really excited about getting administrative leave for deportations because this represents to them to get out from the shadows, to get access to better pay wages,” Hayakawa said.

Under deferred action, those who are eligible could apply for work permits for the time they’re allowed to stay in the country. Hayakawa says despite the setback, he’s telling people not give up hope and to keep getting their paperwork in order. After all, he says, the federal government plans to appeal the decision.

“We started to spread information that this rule is temporary, it’s not definite,” He said. “This is not the last thing that is going to happen.”

For now, advocates say they’ll continue to answer questions and help educate potential applicants.

On Saturday, the consulate’s hosting a clinic for those who may be eligible for DACA. There are two groups – those who came to the U.S. as a child and have lived in the country continuously since 2007. That group isn’t affected by the judge’s ruling. But a second group – those who’ve lived in the U.S. since 2010 – is.

Outside the consulate, visitor Gabino Soto wondered what lies ahead.

Soto says he’s confused about the news this week. He’s hoping to get some answers at the consulate.

He’s says he’s lived in Texas for 12 years and works in construction. His wife and all three of his children were born in the U.S.

We all came here to work and to get ahead, he says, before rushing off to make his 11 a.m. appointment.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.