Upholding DACA (even on procedural grounds) is good news for America. It’s not just good for ‘Dreamers’ whose lives are on hold
Federal Policy

Upholding DACA (even on procedural grounds) is good news for America. It’s not just good for ‘Dreamers’ whose lives are on hold

DACA student Laura Piñeros at desk in a full classroom writing in a notebook.
DACA student Laura Piñeros, whose family brought her to the US from Colombia with her twin when she was a baby, takes notes in criminology class at Eastern Connecticut State University on Oct. 3, 2017. Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

For a country locked in overlapping health, economic, and racial crises, the U.S. Supreme Court’s DACA decision couldn’t come at a better time—it affects all three.

Undocumented individuals covered by DACA are powerful social and economic assets to the nation—with many working in delivery, food service, and retail jobs that the spread of the coronavirus has given us new cause to appreciate. Another 30,000 are involved in America’s public health fight to curb the pandemic amid record-high unemployment.

Relocating them would be both cruel and reckless. And for a country still reckoning with its historic—and present-day—oppression of African Americans and Native Americans, and a national administration widely seen as unsympathetic to their plight as well as that of Hispanics, dismantling this program would be unconscionable.

For now, with the high court punting the Trump administration’s executive order rescinding DACA to the Department of Homeland Security for further work, there’s a respite.

But make no mistake: Protecting undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children who are in jeopardy through no fault of their own is justified on humanitarian grounds – and more.

They are contributing to the common good in a country we all love. DACA supporters argue that removing people covered by the program from the labor force could result in the loss of $215 billion in economic activity and $60 billion in federal tax revenue over the next decade.

Court filings on behalf of those covered by the DACA program stress that since 2012, they have “enrolled in degree programs, embarked on careers, started businesses, purchased homes, and even married and had children, all in reliance” with the belief they would be welcome in the only country some of them have known.

We still have far to go as a nation—and in our efforts to protect these vulnerable residents. The court’s opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, did not address whether the program is good policy. Rather, Roberts and the court’s more liberal justices considered whether DHS had provided a reasoned explanation for uprooting people and deporting them.

The administrative action, sparked by President Donald Trump’s order soon after taking office, also “raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner,” Roberts wrote.

In short, this isn’t a slam dunk for the cause of justice. It may be more of a “won the battle, but not the war” moment. Some will take solace in the likelihood that this protects a vulnerable group through the November election, and it may encourage some form of legislative protection, which enjoyed bipartisan support until several years ago.

DACA began as a straightforward plan under President Barack Obama in 2012: People brought into the country illegally as children and posing no security threat were granted temporary, but renewable, permission to remain here. DACA does not grant amnesty, award green cards, or confer U.S. citizenship. It simply requires immigration officials to decline to deport people who do not have legal status to be here through no fault of their own.

To be eligible, immigrants had to arrive here before they turned 16 and before June 15, 2020, avoid significant criminal convictions and pose no threat to national security, and be enrolled in school or either graduated from high school or earned a GED or honorably discharged from the U.S. military or Coast Guard. Many of them went on to college or are still enrolled, and some are nearly 40 today.

The decision’s arrival on the eve of Juneteenth has a poignant historical resonance: The June 19 celebration of slavery’s end was only a beginning. Hearts and minds, not just laws, had to be changed to erase that great stain upon the nation. We’re still on that path today, with near-daily reminders of how we’ve fallen short.

How we treat immigrants, especially those brought here as children, says something as well about the nation’s character. The high court decision, close as it was, is an important signal. We have much further to go as we pursue our aspiration of becoming a country that lives up to its own ideals of fairness and justice.

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