DACA ruling a victory, but push for permanent status continues




DACA supreme court
People who call themselves 'dreamers' protest in front of the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol in 2017 to urge Congress in passing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Photo by Mark Wilson | Getty Images

The Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday to block the Trump administration from ending a program that shields thousands of immigrants who arrived in the country as children from deportation offered relief to Arizona recipients and advocates, but no permanent answers. 

In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s liberal wing in finding that the Trump administration broke the law in 2017 when it rescinded the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

“I’m so relieved that I can catch a breath again, that many dreamers are going to continue to renew,” said Reyna Montoya—a DACA recipient and founder of Aliento, a group that advocates for undocumented youth—in a press conference. 

But the Supreme Court’s opinion still left the 649,000 beneficiaries of DACA, and their families, with uncertainty, she said.  

The high court didn’t say that the Trump administration had no authority to rescind DACA. Instead, it ruled that the way it went about ending the program broke the law. 

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat, recognized this. 

“Let’s be clear. What we saw today was the Supreme Court slap the president’s hand and say, ‘You did it the wrong way, but here’s the way you can do it,’” Gallego said. “Let’s be clear, this president will try to do it that way.” 

In a video posted on Twitter, U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, also explained that Thursday’s ruling wasn’t a permanent victory for DACA recipients and advocates of the program. 

“This isn’t so much validation or vindication for DACA recipients, what it is an opportunity for the Trump administration to go back, follow the rules, and rescind DACA, if that’s what they choose,” he said. 

There were roughly 24,000 Arizona residents with DACA protections at the end of 2019, according to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that adjudicates immigration benefits. 

DACA allows certain immigrants under the age of 30 with no criminal record who arrived in the country as children to obtain a two-year work permit and grants them protection from deportation.

But because the Trump administration ended the program, eligible new applicants can’t benefit. That means a younger generation of immigrants brought to the country as children won’t find the safety their older peers enjoyed.

When the Trump administration announced in September 2017 that it was rescinding DACA, there were about 25,500 people in Arizona who benefitted from the program, according to USCIS

‘We’re not gonna stop fighting’

Montoya said while she’s grateful for the Supreme Court decision, there is work ahead to find permanent protections not only for DACA beneficiaries, but for the whole undocumented community. 

“Right now, we catch our breath, we say our prayers, and we (are thankful) for these protections,” she said, placing her hand on her chest. “And tomorrow, we are gonna to wake up, and we’re not gonna sleep, we’re not gonna stop fighting, we’re not gonna stop praying, we are not gonna stop advocating until we have a pathway to citizenship not only for dreamers but for the 11 million brothers and sisters, moms and dads, who continue to live in fear of deportation and the anxiety of what tomorrow could bring.” 

This push for a pathway to citizenship is familiar among different generations of immigrant activists in Arizona.

Even before DACA was announced by executive order on June 15, 2012, immigrant youth stepped out of “the shadows,” protested and successfully lobbied President Barack Obama to provide them some protection. 

In Arizona “dreamers” have been arrested in demonstrations, stopped deportations of family members an  strangers, sued the state of Arizona, won the right to obtain driver’s licenses and lost in-state tuition.

In another press conference in Phoenix, organizers brought boxes painted white and with blue lines around the edges made to look like ice cubes. They set up the boxes in front of the main offices of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. The boxes said, “Defund CBP” (Customs and Border Protection), “Defund ICE” and “Pass H.R.6.”

That’s a bill in Congress, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, that includes a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, other undocumeted youth and their families. It was passed with bipartisan votes in the House but stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. 

Under the legislation, around 2.7 million immigrants, including dreamers, DACA recipients and other immigrant groups, would be on a path to permanent immigrations status, according to the Migration Policy Institute. An estimated 65,400 immigrants in Arizona would benefit, according to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

Denis Alivarez, an ASU student and DACA recipient, said at the press conference she is advocating for policy changes to benefit all of the undocumented community, “not just a portion of it.”

“This decision means I’m still protected, my sister is still protected. However, my dad is not protected,” she said. “Eleven million other people are still not protected.” 

Another DACA beneficiary, Vianey De Anda, who works for Progress Now Arizona, denounced how local police and other law enforcement facilitate immigration enforcement. She joined the movement around the country that’s advocating for police budgets to be significantly reduced, in light of recent killings of Black Americans. 

“We demand an investment for our community, for our health, for our education so that we can all thrive,” she said. 

In a statement, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who in August joined other Republican attorneys general in a legal brief supporting the Trump administration’s move to end DACA, said he supported a permanent solution. 

“While the Supreme Court says DACA can remain in place for now, the temporary program has never provided a lasting solution,” he said in a statement. “The rule of law is about creating legal certainty and only Congress can accomplish immigration reform. It is my hope Congress can finally set aside political games and fix our system.”

Who can apply for DACA

Currently, only people who already have already been granted benefits under DACA can apply for renewal.

Experts agree that the Supreme Court decision would open up the program for new applicants, that is: people who were 30 or younger on June 15, 2012; have no criminal record; are in school or graduated high school; are at least 16 years old and have lived in the country since June 15, 2007. But USCIS has not issued guidance on whether it would put in place measures to accept new applications. 

Filing for DACA costs $495, and cannot be waived.