NEW YORK – The ‘Dreamers’ are safe from deportation and loss of their way of life as they have known from childhood in the United States – for now.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday dealt President Donald Trump a major setback on his hardline immigration policies, blocking his bid to end a program that protects from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants – often called ‘Dreamers’ – who entered the United States illegally as children.
The 5-4 ruling, with conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s four liberals, upheld lower court decisions that found that Trump’s 2017 move to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, created in 2012 by President Barack Obama, was unlawful.
The administration’s actions, the justices ruled, were “arbitrary and capricious” under a federal law called the Administrative Procedure Act.
The ruling means that the roughly 649,000 immigrants registered DACA recipients, mostly young Hispanic adults with an average age of 26, born in Mexico and other Latin American countries, will remain protected from deportation and eligible to obtain renewable two-year work permits. More than half live in California, Texas, Illinois, New York and Florida.
The United States has told India in the past that at least 2,550 of the ‘Dreamers’ are from India, although some organizations say that number is now over 4,000.
According to reports, over fifty percent of DACA recipients under the age of 25 are on track to receive a bachelor’s degree, and in total, over ninety percent of DACA recipients are employed. In the next 10 years, the country stood to lose $460.3 billion in GDP if DACA is ended without a legislative solution. In New York alone, Dream Act-eligible individuals in the workforce would add a projected $1.75 billion to the state GDP annually over 10 years.
The ruling does not prevent Trump from trying again to end the program. But his administration may find it difficult to rescind DACA – and win any ensuing legal battle – before the November 3 election in which Trump is seeking a second term in office.
“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies. We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action,” Roberts wrote, referring to Trump’s Department of Homeland Security.
The ruling marked the second time this week that Roberts ruled against Trump in a major case following Monday’s decision finding that gay and transgender workers are protected under federal employment law.
“These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives,” Trump wrote on Twitter after the DACA ruling.
The court’s four other conservatives including two Trump appointees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, dissented.
“Today’s decision must be recognized for what it is: an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in dissent.
Thomas, whose dissent was joined by Gorsuch and Justice Samuel Alito, said DACA itself was “substantively unlawful.”
Trump has made his crackdown on legal and illegal immigration, including pursuing construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, a central part of his presidency and re-election campaign.
Immigrants had to meet certain conditions to qualify for DACA such as not being convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor and being enrolled in high school or having a high school diploma or equivalent.
The young immigrants for whom the program was devised, Obama said, were raised and educated in the United States, grew up as Americans and often know little about their countries of origin. After Thursday’s ruling, Obama wrote on Twitter, “We may look different and come from everywhere, but what makes us American are our shared ideals.”
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called the ruling a victory that was “made possible by the courage and resilience of hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients who bravely stood up and refused to be ignored.”
Biden, vowed, if elected, to “immediately work to make it permanent by sending a bill to Congress on Day One of my administration.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook also lauded the decision, tweeting, “We’re glad for today’s decision and will keep fighting until DACA’s protections are permanent.”
Outside the Supreme Court, on Thursday, DACA recipients wearing masks because of the coronavirus pandemic cheered the ruling. Despite social distancing recommendations, some could not help but hug.
“We’ve been preparing for this moment for so long,” said José Alonso Muñoz, a spokesman for United We Dream, the nation’s largest organization founded by immigrant youths. Muñoz is also a DACA recipient, and his protections are set to expire in 2022.
Muñoz is one of the immigrants who answered Obama’s invitation in 2012 to “come out of the shadows” and register with the U.S. government. His parents brought him to the United States from Mexico when he was 3 months old and raised him in Minneapolis. He turns 30 on Friday and is the only member of his family who remains undocumented.
Jesus Contreras, 26, was coming off a 24-hour shift as an EMT in Houston when he heard the news that DACA was saved for now. He had spent almost all night – except for a 20-minute nap – responding to calls to aid residents with emergencies, including some patients with the coronavirus.
Contreras, who came to the United States from Mexico at age 6, said he is “just mentally exhausted from being pushed to understand that any given second, one decision could mean the end of the program and our life here in the United States.”
University of California (UC) President Janet Napolitano, who was homeland security secretary when DACA was launched, hailed the ruling as a boon for students who have relied on the program while they pursue degrees.
UC, which had filed suit in 2017 to preserve the program, estimates that about 1,700 of its undergraduates have DACA protection. “I just have to believe they are breathing a huge sigh of relief,” Napolitano said Thursday, in a Zoom interview. “This was kind of like the Sword of Damocles hanging over their head.”
For the ‘Dreamers’, the reprieve by the Supreme Court may be short, though. Trump, on Friday, promised to renew his effort to end DACA.
In a morning tweet, Trump seized on the fact that the 5-4 decision did not address the merits of the DACA program, but rather said that the administration had not provided proper legal justification for ending it.
“The Supreme Court asked us to resubmit on DACA, nothing was lost or won. They ‘punted,’ much like in a football game (where hopefully they would stand for our great American Flag). We will be submitting enhanced papers shortly in order to properly fulfil the Supreme Court’s ruling & request of yesterday,” Trump wrote.
“I have wanted to take care of DACA recipients better than the Do Nothing Democrats, but for two years they refused to negotiate – They have abandoned DACA. Based on the decision the Dems can’t make DACA citizens. They gained nothing!” Trump continued.
The White House declined to provide any details beyond the president’s tweet.
Trump has often seemed ambivalent about DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, lauding them at some points and declaring they are “no angels” at others.
For now, not only are the present DACA recipients safe, more may be added to the program.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, whose state was among the challengers that sued to try to preserve DACA, said the ruling could reopen the program “to anyone who qualifies,” but that legal processes in lower courts were still ongoing that could determine whether new applications must be processed by the government.
The Supreme Court ruling was praised by immigration lawyers and advocates.
Nachman Phulwani Zimovcak (NPZ) Law Group, headquartered in New Jersey, said in a statement that the decision was “a constitutional law triumph and tribute to the fact that the system can do the right thing”.
David Nachman, Esq., one of the Managing Attorney’s at VISASERVE stated: “The decision stands as proof that a President Obama properly vetted the Constitutional underpinnings of the DACA Program”.
Lakshmi Sridaran, Executive Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), based in Washington, DC, said of the ruling, to PTI: “Although it is conditional, today’s victory is welcome at a time when the war on Black communities feels endless,” adding, “It is a reminder that our work is not done, but together we can win. We have to keep demanding solutions that benefit us all – including pushing for a permanent, legislative solution that ensures a path to citizenship for all immigrants, defunding Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, and the police, and investing in communities, which are pillars of the Movement for Black Lives policy agenda.”
The North American Punjabi Association (NAPA), in a statement, hailed the Supreme Court decision.
“Court’s decision is being welcomed in the immigrant’s community throughout the United States and is seen as a blow to a central campaign promise from Trump and a likely topic for the 2020 presidential election,” NAPA executive director Satnam Singh Chahal said.
“…Supreme Court ruling on DACA shows what we all knew: Trump’s immigration policies are arbitrary, capricious, and just plain stupid. It’s a victory for America’s families, communities, health, and economy,” said Steve Choi, Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition, in a statement.
Choi added: “In New York, the epicenter of America’s COVID-19 outbreak, 50,000 New Yorkers and their families can sigh in relief, though only until the next cruel attack on immigrant communities. The Trump administration has already proved that it is willing to go to any lengths to end immigration as we know it—from extremist immigration bans, to dramatic cuts to legal immigration to administrative rule changes implemented without any Congressional oversight. But the fight isn’t over.”
(With inputs from Reuters and The Washington Post)