Today, I stand before you as an immigrant, a student, and an active beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. I want to share with you the consequential impact that the recent decision by Judge Andrew Hanen, declaring DACA as an unconstitutional executive program, has had on my life, the lives of thousands like me, and its relation to the founding principles of this country.

I have been under the protection of DACA since 2013, at the time I was a junior in high school. I was not aware of my undocumented status until I tried to enlist in the US Air Force. I remember asking my parents about the location of my green card so I could bring it to the recruiter, and instead I had my entire world pulled from right under me. I remember feeling ashamed of my status, as if I had suddenly contracted some sort of viral infection, I could not get rid of. Waves of anger and resentment washed over me as I blamed my parents for putting me in this situation in the first place. The questions that rang inside my head screamed out: Why me? Why do I have to be different? Why do I have to carry this burden alone?

Ever since I immigrated to this country in 2004, I have always considered myself to be an “American”. I am very fortunate and privileged to have been able to attend amazing schools, have wonderful friends, and most importantly, have dreams and aspirations that reflected the great “American Dream” rhetoric that people used to talk about at the time. This is my home; I have no connection to the culture or way of life outside of the United States. When I found out about my status in the U.S., it felt like I had lost a limb from my body. I lost myself. Losing my sense of belonging was the worst feeling; I was suddenly very afraid, and I felt like no one around me could understand what I was really going through.

After applying for and receiving DACA, those feelings began to slowly change. The program has been a lifeline for me and countless others in this country. It has provided us with a temporary reprieve from the constant fear of deportation, allowing us to come out of the shadows and contribute openly to this great nation. It has given us the opportunity to work, study, create businesses, and pursue our dreams. DACA has been our bridge to stability, allowing us to integrate fully into American society. It has allowed us to work towards and achieve our own versions of the “American Dream” we so deeply yearned for.

However, Judge Hanen’s ruling threatens to strip away this protection and cast us back into uncertainty and insecurity. I believe one of the most devastating aspects of this ruling is the emotional toll it takes on DACA recipients and their families. For many of us, the United States is the only home we have ever known. The fear of deportation, separation from our families, and the potential unraveling of our lives is a constant source of anxiety and distress. It is a feeling that no one should have to endure, especially when we have done nothing wrong except be brought here as children. We have become essential members of the American workforce, contributing our skills and talents to the American economy. We pay taxes, we start businesses, and we create jobs. The program has been a win-win, benefiting both our individual lives and the nation as a whole. And although the current ruling does not terminate DACA, the possibility of its future termination and other legal challenges that follow fill me with dreadful emotions I am honestly exhausted of experiencing.

The vast majority of students and professionals under DACA knew this program was supposed to be a temporary fix, a band aid to a larger issue. The exclusion of our parents, friends, colleagues, and loved ones who did not meet the criteria for protective status left us all with a foul taste in our mouths. To many, the introduction of DACA was supposed to be the pathway to so much more. The judicial impasse we find ourselves in today is due to the lack of legislative action, and I will continue to implore our government to engage in meaningful and substantive conversations as soon as possible before it is too late.

This decision threatens the very essence of the American dream for thousands of DACA recipients (and possible recipients). It challenges the principles of fairness, justice, and compassion that this nation of immigrants was built upon. As an immigrant, and student at the University of Houston, I implore you all to stand with us, to support us in our fight for justice and equity. To recognize that we are not just “Dreamers,” but contributors, students, and integral members of this great nation.

And yet despite these challenges, we are resilient. We are fighters. We refuse to let this setback define us or deter us from our goals. We will continue to advocate for a permanent solution, for a pathway to citizenship that recognizes our contributions and the deep roots we have established in this country. I call out to every public and private institution of higher education, to our allies who are sitting in government positions, in businesses, and in their homes to use their power as American citizens to set things right.


Carlos Hernandez is a DACA recipient and a senior undergraduate student at the University of Houston who is majoring in Political Science with a concentration in Law and Public Policy. Carlos is deeply involved in various student organizations on campus, like the Student Government Association and the Pre-Law Society. Notably, Carlos is also a prestigious recipient of TheDream.US National Scholarship, ensuring full financial support for his ongoing educational journey. This impact statement was originally shared on a webinar hosted by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education. Carlos is currently an undergraduate intern with HILSC.

High number of deportations amidst a record number of crossings.

A Democratic president promising positive change to immigration policy that never comes.

Limited capacity at every nonprofit legal service provider.

You would be forgiven for guessing whether we were talking about 2012 or 2022. Over the 10 years since the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC) was founded, the immigration space has roiled under the relentless, demeaning attacks by politicians and populists eager to exact suffering on a marginalized group of people to push their agenda. However, the community that has grown to respond to the wave of inhumane hate stands as the key change over the past decade. While many of today’s challenges in the immigration field share an uncomfortable amount of similarities with longstanding systemic issues, HILSC believes that the future for the community looks bright.

To mark its tenth birthday, HILSC worked to position its network to tackle the next decade. At the beginning of this year, HILSC finally became an independent 501(c)(3), giving the organization greater latitude to advocate for immigrants and greater flexibility to martial resources on their behalf. Shortly after, HILSC began work on a strategic plan. Why select that as the first major project after becoming independent? Because the power of HILSC always came not merely from the collective labor of its partners but also through the opportunity of coordinated efforts to smartly tackle the challenges at hand. The words of philanthropist W.K. Kellogg, which continues to guide his foundation, encapsulates this sentiment: “…it is only through cooperative planning, intelligent study and group action – activities on the part of the entire community – that lasting results can be achieved.”

This spirit informed our strategic planning as we collected feedback from our network through surveys, one-on-one interviews and group discussions. HILSC wanted to co-create with its partners a guide to fostering a resilient interdisciplinary immigration ecosystem capable of meeting the existing and emerging needs of immigrants in Greater Houston in an agile, adaptive manner.

The planning culminated in a June meeting that brought more than two dozen partners throughout the network, many seeing each other for the first time since before the pandemic. Across the conference room were the four goals that underpinned our new plan, an evolution of the goals that guided HILSC in the past. Over four hours, partners gathered in small groups and discussed the critical elements HILSC and the community should prioritize when it came to each of these goals.

Participants expressed broad enthusiasm and support for the proposed goals and approaches. They encouraged HILSC to take a bold and systemic approach to its work, noting, however, that sequencing of activities would be critical to success. This is a marathon, not a sprint, they reminded us. They also provided valuable input on how HILSC could approach implementing these elements and ways in which HILSC partners could contribute. By the end of the process, the foundational goals of HILSC transformed into revised goals that resonated with lessons learned from past experiences and better suited to today’s challenges.



Though the work in organizing the strategic planning was not easy, especially as the plan put in place requires regular evaluation to ensure the goals are being met, we would not have chosen differently. We as a community have tirelessly worked to uplift and defend immigrants against the unjust excesses of the immigration system, but working tirelessly without plan or direction is not sustainable. As we enter the second decade of existence, HILSC wants to safeguard the existing capacity that serves immigrants and continue growing it as this community has done since 2012.

These plans provide a start to a more dynamic future where HILSC can help the community continue adapting to an ever-changing landscape. Similar to Amnesty International, another organization that faces intractable problems in an increasingly hostile environment, HILSC believes having at all times “strategic goals to guide the movement.” One of the few frameworks designed explicitly for this type of situation is the Theory of Change, a process specifically designed to enact wider social change through informed, strategic decision making, a version of which we will unveil in the coming months. In our future blog posts, we will go more in depth through the steps taken in the strategic planning, including data collection, the philosophy of inclusivity and the decision-making process.