The Supreme Court says ‘Dreamers’ can stay, for now. It’s time we let them stay for good.

People march for immigrant rights in Los Angeles in September 2017. Photo by Molly Adams | Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The U.S. Supreme Court did the right thing. 

On Thursday, the nation’s highest court ruled President Donald Trump’s decision to end the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, was “arbitrary and capricious” and a violation of federal law.

President Trump, of course, is infamously “arbitrary and capricious,” and just as often cruel and disinterested in the consequences of his actions.

In this case, the consequences of a Trump win would have been devastating to the more than 650,000 DACA recipients, better known as Dreamers. Had the justices ruled in the president’s favor, their lives, along with the lives of their families, would have been turned upside down.

I know Dreamers. I count many of them as friends. I’ve worked with them. I’ve marched with them. I’ve celebrated their triumphs and shared in their heartaches.

You know them, too. It would be hard not to. Some 200,000 Dreamers, including an estimated 7,000 in Arizona, are among the ranks of millions of “essential workers” in so-called frontline jobs that have kept this country running throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Nearly 30,000 Dreamers have jobs in health care, including some who work as hospital nurses and even doctors, risking their lives to treat people infected with the coronavirus.

Besides those who have DACA now, activists say another 1.5 million young immigrants probably qualify for the program. But they either don’t know how to apply, don’t have the money to do so, or they’re afraid to share their personal information with a presidential administration that’s been so openly hostile toward immigrants.

Despite Thursday’s win at the Supreme Court, Dreamers are still considered undocumented under U.S. immigration law. President Barack Obama created DACA by executive order in 2012. The program only grants recipients “temporary legal authority” to stay in the country. It’s called “deferred action” because it only postpones the deportation of Dreamers.

So, while the court’s decision was a colossal victory for Dreamers, it does not mean their fight is over. Dreamers still don’t have U.S. citizenship, meaning they still don’t have the right to live permanently in the only country many of them have ever known.

To qualify for DACA, Dreamers had to be younger than 16 when their parents brought them to the United States. Most Dreamers came as young children, in some cases as infants or toddlers.

They came because they were brought here by their parents, and their parents came because they believed—like so many of the untold multitudes who’ve arrived on our shores for centuries from around the world—that life would be better here.

To know a Dreamer is to know someone who is an American in every practical way but for the fact that, by a quirk of fate, they were not born in the United States.

And so, for years (and decades in some cases), Dreamers have had to live day in and day out with the knowledge that America, the place they call home, might turn its back on them one day and force them to return to a place as foreign to them as it might be for you and me.

For many years, “undocumented and unafraid” has been a favored chant for Dreamers at marches and rallies in support of DACA and a path to citizenship. What it means is that America is their land, too, no matter the technicalities of their immigration status—or the sometimes outright hatred they’ve endured from people who insist that Dreamers don’t deserve to stay in the U.S.

I’ve long admired the extraordinary determination and uniquely exceptional courage of many Dreamers in the face of the seemingly incessant barrage of obstacles meant to keep them from achieving their goal. 

Imagine waking up every day or your life and having to ask yourself, “Is today the day that I’ll be deported? Is today the day that my hopes and dreams, and the life I’ve built with my family here, will be taken away? Is this the day it’ll all vanish, as if it were just a dream?”

And yet, they go on. They get up in the morning. They go to work. They raise children. They buy cars and homes and start businesses. And they march and protest and demand that elected officials who they’re not allowed to vote for represent them in their struggle.

And it’s by doing these things that would otherwise be routine for you and me that they contribute to what America is and what it will become. 

And our country is better for it.

We’re better for it because, as you read this, Dreamers are on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19. Dreamers are stocking the shelves at supermarkets or delivering food to our front doors. There are Dreamers who are entrepreneurs, lawyers, scientists, teachers and working in almost every profession imaginable.

In other words, they are us.

It’s been more than a century since someone I like to think of as our state’s original Dreamer came to Arizona, brought by his undocumented parents at the age of two amid the tumult of the Mexican revolution, and who grew up to become a teacher, a boxer, a lawyer, a judge, a U.S. ambassador—and this state’s only Latino governor.

His name was Raul H. Castro. And until his death five years ago this month, Castro (who eventually became a naturalized U.S. citizen) spoke often of his deep and personal admiration for today’s Dreamers. 

He did that because he understood from experience what it meant to have the courage and grit it takes to wake up every morning in the face of adversity, in a country where you’re not always welcome, to fight another day. 

He understood why Dreamers dream.

Today, the Supreme Court did the right thing. 

Tomorrow, Dreamers will show us what it takes to fight another day.

James E. Garcia
James E. Garcia is a Phoenix-based journalist, playwright and communications consultant. He is the editor and publisher of Vanguardia Arizona, which covers Latino news statewide, and the weekly newsletter Vanguardia America. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James has taught writing, ethnic studies, theater and Latino politics at ASU. He is the producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co. and the author of more than 30 plays.