Ask the Experts: DACA and the Supreme Court
By Brian Hiro
Last Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration cannot execute its plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was instituted in 2012 to protect eligible undocumented people from deportation and grant work authorizations for two-year periods.
As a result of the 5-4 decision, almost 700,000 young people, known as “Dreamers,” can remain in the United States and avoid the prospect of being returned to countries of which many of them have no memories. The Supreme Court ruling was roundly celebrated in California, where more than a quarter of DACA recipients live, and particularly on University of California and California State University campuses, where thousands of DACA students are in the process of earning degrees.
Even as they rejoiced in the decision, however, most DACA advocates urged vigilance. DACA, they say, remains a temporary fix, and Dreamers will not be able to enjoy true piece of mind until Congress is finally able to tackle comprehensive immigration reform that writes their protection into law.
On Monday, June 22 at 6 p.m., the DREAMer Resource Office at Cal State San Marcos will be hosting a virtual town hall to discuss the Supreme Court ruling and the resources available to CSUSM students.
In this installment of Ask the Expert, CSUSM sociology professor Marisol Clark-Ibáñez and Josefina Espino, a DREAMer Resource Office program specialist, discuss DACA, the Supreme Court and what comes next.
Question: What is your main reaction to the Supreme Court ruling on DACA last week?
Marisol Clark-Ibáñez: My immediate reaction to the decision was elation. The SCOTUS ruling felt like a small ray of sunshine in the midst of intense weeks of social justice protests to support the Black Lives Matter movement and dealing with responses to anti-Black racism. The problems with law enforcement, racism and deadly use of force are very relevant to the ways that Spanish-speaking Latino communities here in North County experience immigration enforcement, detainment and deportation. At a time when we were feeling so much pain and trauma, it felt surreal to learn that the SCOTUS decision did not end the DACA program.
Josefina Espino: I feel a sense of relief knowing that some of our students and community members will now have something less to worry about, at least for the time being.
Q: Did the decision surprise you?
MCI: Yes, I was surprised. I had learned from immigrant rights organizations and immigrant attorneys that the outcome was expected to be bad, very bad or incredibly bad. In fact, in talking to a colleague, I let her know that I had dreamt the decision was simply delayed to next year and she joked that this could be the only “good” option but very unlikely. Organizations and campuses such as CSUSM, SDSU and MiraCosta College were preparing for the worst. It’s understandable: There is a conservative majority on the bench. After the shock slowly faded, I began to understand that this decision was about a technicality. While it seems like DACA lives another day, its days are numbered under the Trump administration. However, I am an optimist! We all must be. Having more time allows for positive social action and advocacy.
JE: I was surprised by the decision because the way things have been going during the current administration, I was expecting the worst-case scenario.
Q: In your conversations with Dreamers at CSUSM, had you been preparing them for a ruling against DACA? If so, how?
MCI: Through a regional listserv, Education Without Borders, I have been sharing resources, updates, analysis and grassroots efforts that were mostly preparing for negative outcomes. However, the major blow to our students and alumni was Trump’s initial rescission of DACA and the subsequent stress that this caused our students. Also, because new applicants were not being accepted, some of our students’ siblings and other younger family members would not be able to apply to DACA, which reduced their opportunity to work, pay for educational expenses and be afforded deportation protection. So, worry related to DACA was being acutely felt not only by our students, but their families and friends. It’s been a roller-coaster ride, and it’s not over yet.
JE: Yes, I have had several conversations with students to discuss the uncertainty of their future and while I encouraged them to remain hopeful, I also advised them to seek legal services and to be prepared, as much as they could be, for a negative ruling. The DREAMer Resource Office offers free legal services, so my team has been promoting those services more heavily and we also increased the number of Know Your Rights workshops. On June 4 and 10, we had online emergency safety planning events in collaboration with UURISE in case the worst would happen. Our goal is to help our students and community members better prepare for challenges such as having a family member being detained or deported.
Q: What is the immediate impact of this decision on Dreamers at CSUSM and beyond?
MCI: I think the immediate reaction is of relief that nothing has changed. Folks with DACA continue to have access to resources, work permits and other opportunities. No material or education benefits were lost by this decision. Reflecting on the CSUSM alumni who have DACA, this decision allows them to continue on their professional journeys and serve our region. Yet the emotional toll of waiting and worrying about the decision is alongside the everyday worries of immigration enforcement in North County San Diego experienced in our immigrant communities. We must remember: DACA is still a limited program, not an immigration status, and we still don’t have comprehensive, humane immigration reform.
JE: The immediate impact is that they can focus on their studies and pursue their dreams without constantly worrying about DACA ending suddenly. The continuation of the DACA program also allows them to continue to work, which is great as they do not qualify for any federal funding.
Q: Do you think the widespread public support for the DACA program played a role in the Supreme Court’s decision?
MCI: Given how much the SCOTUS decisions have shaped social policy and opened up equality (or diminished rights), the interpretations and decisions are surely impacted by socio-historical events and developments. In the case of this decision, Chief Justice John Roberts did write, “We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies.” Meaning, they did not rule on whether DACA was right or wrong. Where I think public support makes the stronger impact is on our elected officials who have the ability to make laws (stronger than executive orders) that reflect voters’ opinions. I have been heartened to read the recent polls, for example from Pew Research Center that three-fourths of adult Americans are in favor of granting legal status to immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Even more interesting is a Politico poll that indicated 69 percent of those who voted for Trump in 2016 are in favor of protecting Dreamers. I hope to see the widespread support of DACA extend to the support of immigration reform that includes adults and others who cannot qualify for DACA.
JE: I think the efforts of the younger generation marching in D.C. and standing up for their rights played the biggest role. Our students are resilient and they are standing up for themselves and we must hear them and stand with them. While there is some public support, I don’t think there is enough. We must continue to come together and work toward a permanent solution and pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented people here in the U.S.
Q: The ruling was a narrow one, arguing that the administration’s justifications for ending DACA were insufficient. Do you expect Trump to make another attempt before the election?
MCI: Absolutely. President Trump made it clear during his campaign that he would be getting rid of DACA and making other strong efforts toward curtailing unauthorized immigration. He has shown his commitment to these promises with his attempt at a travel ban, trying to curtail visas for spouses of high-skilled immigrant workers, beginning wall construction at parts along the U.S.-Mexico border, deploying the National Guard to the border, and inhumane treatment of migrants (e.g., family, individuals and unaccompanied minors) seeking asylum at the border. With the recent SCOTUS decision, the Trump administration now has a clearer pathway to end DACA “correctly.”
JE: We do have to keep in mind that the Supreme Court only blocked Trump's first attempt at ending DACA, but they did not indicate that it was unconstitutional for him to end it or that he cannot attempt to do it again in a different manner. So we can most likely expect him to try again. I would not be surprised if he attempts again to end DACA before the November election.
Q: Does that reinforce the need to remain vigilant on this issue even after the victory in court? How will you do that?
MCI: Yes, those of us committed to the rights and safety of undocumented students and their loved ones need to focus on the road ahead. The SCOTUS decision was a moment to realize we have more time and we must work harder. Our region – both North County San Diego and San Diego County – has diverse opportunities to join advocacy efforts. We have many organizations focused on immigrant human rights, nonprofit immigrant legal services, regional partners who are working toward legislative solutions, and efforts within the State of California that are championing the dignity and opportunities for undocumented immigrants. Several national organizations have partnered with us over the years to develop leadership among undocumented immigrant youth and allies. Most importantly, we all must vote if we have the right and privilege to do so, join efforts to register voters, and engage in education and outreach with neighbors and community members about these important issues. This is the time to ignite civic engagement.
JE: Yes, definitely as a community we must continue to fight for the rights of our fellow peers. What we need is a clear pathway to citizenship and not these temporary fixes. Now is the time to pressure our government to work on a permanent solution. Many people I have spoken to think that DACA recipients don’t apply for citizenship by choice, which means they are misinformed, because DACA does not provide a pathway to citizenship. The DREAMer Resource Office will continue to provide ally training and education and to support those at CSUSM and our surrounding communities. Again, while I am grateful that the DACA program is continuing for now, there is still a need for comprehensive immigration reform that protects Dreamers and all undocumented people permanently. We still have a long way to go.
Q: What message did you send to the undocumented students you work with in the wake of this ruling?
MCI: I have shared the messages written by several organizations, including our very own DREAMer Resource Office. We have trusted partners and service providers who work directly with undocumented students and their loved ones; their messages should be amplified through social media and other networks. Ultimately, our efforts are toward establishing immigration reform that encompasses all members of our undocumented community, inclusive of age, gender, sexual orientation, language, date of arrival or length of time in country, and race.
JE: I would like them to take this moment to celebrate this ruling; it may be only a small victory, but nonetheless it is something to celebrate. I would also like them to know that, as your advocates here at the DREAMer Resource Office, we know this is not the end of the fight. We all still have a long way to go, and now is the time to be vocal.
Brian Hiro, Communications Specialist
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