Dealing With DACA and COVID

June 19, 2020

Photo by Victoria Pickering licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Supreme Court says the Trump administration can’t end DACA, for now. What the decision means to one DACA recipient caring for those most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Listen to the full episode below or scroll down for the transcript and more information.

Click here for more of our coronavirus coverage.

Dan Gorenstein: This week, we’ve been focused on getting ahead on some exciting stories we’re working on for later this summer. 

But on Thursday, the Supreme Court issued one of its most closely watched decisions of the year.

News clip: We’re coming on the air because there’s a major decision out of the United States Supreme Court concerning the Dreamers.

News clip: Ruling against the Trump administration’s decision to end the DACA program.

DG: This ruling covers around 700,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children.

An executive order from President Obama allows them to work and protects them from deportation. 

29,000 of these so-called Dreamers are health care workers, young people now on the frontlines of a pandemic worried they may have to leave their families, their country and their patients.

Esmeralda Tovar-Mora: I always had that in the back of my mind on Sunday, thinking Monday I could be told to go back and then I won’t be able to see them again.

Today, from the Annenberg Studio at the University of Pennsylvania, what the DACA decision means to one Dreamer caring for those most vulnerable to COVID-19.

I’m Dan Gorenstein, and this is Tradeoffs.

ET: Every night before I go to bed, I always pray with my daughter.

Esmeralda Tovar-Mora and her daughter Rose.

DG: Esmeralda Tovar-Mora is a DACA recipient who works as a mental health case manager during the week and an aide at a local nursing home on the weekends.

She lives in Hutchinson, Kansas with her husband and their 3-year-old daughter Rose. 

ET: So we always pray the “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” prayer. And she always says the very last part. So I say, “Now I lay me down to…” She goes, “Sleep.” “I pray the Lord, my soul to…” “Keep.” “May angels watch me through the…” “Night.” “And guide me in the morning…” “Light.” And then we end with amen. And then I ask her what she wants to pray for. And Wednesday night she went, “You. For you.” And then I prayed for strength to help me get through just another week because I was thinking, since there was no ruling on Monday, that maybe this upcoming Monday there would be something.

DG: Thursday morning, Esmeralda’s phone lit up, an hour into work.

ET: My heart dropped, thinking, you know, the worst that, you know, we were already being sent back cause that’s obviously one of the thoughts that went through my head. But reading through it, I just started crying, and so you just see my co-workers are just passing by looking at me and I’m just like, “Ahhhhh.” And then some of them come back around and I tell them, I’m like, “SCOTUS just came out and said that DACA for the time being, it’s good.” Co-workers that were walking by they’re like, “We heard the news!” And we’re all with our masks on, and they’re like, “Yeahhhhh!”

DG: Ever since the Supreme Court took up the case, Esmeralda has been distracted, anxious. Watching her daughter Rose, worried that she might be separated from her if she got deported.

ET: That thought has always been in the back of my mind that I could potentially be told I have to be back in my home country by a certain amount of time. There has just been so much uncertainty and anxiety to the point where I was numb. I didn’t even know what to feel.

DG: To cope, Esmeralda has looked forward to the weekends, when she’s at the nursing home.

ET: Honestly, being with them helped take my mind off of things because I was thinking of just them. 

DG: And yet nursing homes are one of the most dangerous places in the country right now.

News clip: Coronavirus has been especially deadly for one of America’s most vulnerable populations. That’s people in nursing homes.

News clip: It’s growing increasingly clear these facilities are the new epicenter of the crisis.

News clip: And it’s not just the residents who are getting sick. The people who are caring for them are also falling victim to the disease.

DG: Nearly half of the people who have died in the U.S. from COVID-19 have either lived or worked in a nursing home or assisted living facility.

Thankfully, none of Esmeralda’s residents have gotten COVID, but the risk is constantly on her mind.

ET: You try to maintain that 6 feet apart when you yourself are out in the community so that you can keep them safe. We can’t maintain that 6 feet apart there. We can’t do that in the home.

DG: Because of the dangers, most nursing homes across the country — including Esmeralda’s — have banned visitors.

This means residents depend on people like Esmeralda for connection and a little companionship.

Esmeralda Tovar-Mora (left) with a nursing home resident and co-workers.

ET: It’s been it’s been hard because they’ll ask, “Where’s my family?” Or, “Hey, what are you doing? Can you sit with me?” It’s just those, like, small phrases where they ask for that attention, they ask for that affection.You know, you just come in and you can tell that a resident is very, very upset over something, and you say, “Hey, how can I help you?” And the resident will say, “Well, I love you.” And you say it back, and then they just light up. 

DG: Sometimes though, the isolation can make people angry.

ET: So I think one of the hardest moments was when a resident was so upset that the resident started yelling at others saying, “Well, I can’t leave. Tell them to let me go.” And then, like, started just yelling down the halls. And you have to think fast. This resident might be in pain. This resident might be shouting because, you know, her husband was supposed to be here and maybe she’s looking for him. And so, you know, I went up to that resident and said, “Can you hold my hand?” And this resident said, “Well, I don’t know if I want to. It looks kind of small to me.” So I said, “Hey, look at you!” And so even there, that was the redirection, you know, made me laugh, looked at her, and the smile just came out. And so then I said, “OK, well, come on, I’ll still hold your hand if you’ll hold mine.” And then walked down the hall, go into the room, and then we sit down and then I get ice cream.

DG: What has it meant to you to be able to go to your job at the nursing home on the weekends, which is not your full time job, it’s your part time job.

ET: It’s given me endless grandparents. It really has. On the weekends, I always have over 15 grandparents who love me for me because I’m there for them, and I am able to bring joy to them. And they’re taken care of.

DG: This is not the end of the DACA debate. 

The Trump administration could try to end the program, and there is still no permanent path to citizenship for the 700,000 Dreamers.

But Thursday’s decision takes pressure off Esmeralda.

It means she can keep seeing the residents that mean so much to her.

ET: I always had that in the back of my mind on Sunday, thinking Monday I could be told to go back and then I won’t be able to see them again. I just knew that I was grateful that I was able to be there with them that Sunday, even if it was my last. And now, you know, after the decision, knowing I get to go back this weekend, it just brings me happiness. I don’t even know. It just makes me happy.

DG: Have you talked to Rose today?

Esmeralda Tovar-Mora with her daughter Rose and her husband Michael.

ET: I have.

DG: After you heard the news?

ET: Yeah.

DG: What’d you tell her?  

ET: I didn’t even have to tell her anything. I said, “Hi, Roses!” She said, “Mommy, guess what?” And I go, “What?” And she goes, “I love you!” I didn’t even have to tell her anything. She just knew.

DG: What is it you think she knew?

ET: I think she knew that I was filled with emotions. She sensed it. She knew I needed a hug. And my husband, you know, afterwards gave me a hug, said, “Congratulations.” And I said, “For what?” And he goes, “You’ve been working so hard.” And he said, “You know, I never knew the struggle until I met you.” You know, being a citizen, he never had to go through that. And that is hard. It’s been hard. 

DG: Are you going to say anything to Rose?

ET: I don’t know. I think what I’m going to end up telling her will be, “Mommy is safe, Mommy is here, and Mommy is with you.”

DG: I’m Dan Gorenstein. This is Tradeoffs.

Want more Tradeoffs? Sign up for our weekly newsletter!

Episode Resources

Select Research and Reporting on DACA and Health Care:

Trump Can’t Immediately End DACA, Supreme Court Rules (Adam Liptak and 

(Nicole Prchal Svajlenka, Center for American Progress, 4/6/2020)

I’m Risking My Life to Save Your Grandparents, but I Could Get Deported Any Day (Esmeralda Tovar, Cosmopolitan, 4/29/2020)

Select Research and Reporting on Nursing Homes and COVID-19

Nursing Homes & Assisted Living Facilities Account for 42% of COVID-19 Deaths (Greg Girvan, Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, 6/2/2020)

COVID-19 Nursing Home Data (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Staffing Nursing Homes Was Hard Before the Pandemic. Now It’s Even Tougher. (Sophie Quinton, Stateline, 5/18/2020)

After the Hospital (Tradeoffs, 4/3/2020)

Episode Credits


Esmeralda Tovar-Mora; Mental Health Case Manager, Nursing Home Medication Aide, DACA Recipient

The Tradeoffs theme song was composed by Ty Citerman.

Photos courtesy of Esmeralda Tovar-Mora.

This episode was produced and mixed by Ryan Levi.

Additional thanks to:

Javier Quiroz Castro, Alondra Casas, Pamela Valenza, the Tradeoffs Advisory Board…

…and our stellar staff!