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Michael Hall, Texas Monthly, Dec. 19, 2019
"On Monday morning, Pedro Villalobos stood in front of his new boss, Margaret Moore, the Travis County district attorney. The young lawyer, who wore a dark blue suit and a tie adorned with sunflowers, was a little nervous. As a small crowd of staff members from the DA’s office watched, Moore asked Villalobos and another lawyer standing next to him to raise their right hands. Villalobos stared directly at Moore as he solemnly swore to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this state.”
Moore smiled. “Congratulations,” she said. “You’re mine now.”
Moore hugged Villalobos, who had, until this moment, worked for the county attorney, prosecuting misdemeanors in Austin. Now he would be handling felony cases, going after accused drug dealers, rapists, and murderers. It would be a huge moment for any early-career attorney, but it was an especially consequential day for the 28-year-old Villalobos, who is an undocumented immigrant.
He is also one of the best young lawyers in the state. Just last month, he was given the “Prosecutor Award for Excellence in Criminal Law” by the Austin Bar Association. “He’s an impressive young man,” said Moore later. “At the DA’s office, we look for trial strength and personality, people with good, balanced judgment. We don’t emphasize seeking convictions, we emphasize seeking justice. Pedro fits the bill perfectly. He shines.”
Villalobos is a Dreamer. Brought to the U.S. by his parents from Mexico when he was three, he lived in the country without legal status until 2013, when he received a work permit through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), an Obama initiative that has allowed 900,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as kids—known as Dreamers—to postpone deportation and work in the country legally.
But Villalobos is in jeopardy. One of President Trump’s earliest moves was to rescind DACA, arguing that Obama’s act was illegal. Various federal courts have prevented the president from scuttling the program, but earlier this year the Supreme Court agreed to review DACA’s legality. In November the court heard oral arguments, and a decision is expected in the spring. Many legal observers think the court, which has a conservative majority thanks to two Trump appointments, is likely to throw out DACA. Though Trump has called on Congress to fix the program, there seems to be little appetite from the president or Congress to actually do something.
If DACA is scrapped and not replaced, Villalobos’s work permit will expire in 2021 and he will no longer be able to work as a prosecutor. He could also be deported, along with hundreds of thousands of other DACA recipients. The fact that an essential member of the Texas legal establishment—a man who enforces laws and protects citizens—could be legally thrown out of the country fills many at the courthouse with dread."