Dreamers, Congress see hard work ahead despite court ruling

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruling that spells relief for the thousands of undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children also takes pressure off Congress to find an immediate fix to their predicament.

But because it leaves the door open for the Trump administration to make another attempt at ending the popular Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, it highlights the need for a permanent legislative solution.

The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against a White House attempt to end the Obama-era program that has given 700,000 of these so-called Dreamers the ability to work in the United States and protection against deportation, calling Trump’s move to end it “arbitrary and capricious.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Dreamers have garnered widespread support from all ends of the political spectrum, including Trump supporters. On Thursday, she said the high court’s decision “supports our values as a country” but admitted that she had feared a different ruling.

“We were in just in such dread about what could possibly happen at the court up until last night — if it goes this way, if it goes that way,” Pelosi told reporters. “But this way is the American way, and we’re very proud of it.”

Adrian Escarate, a 31-year-old Dreamer originally from Chile who now lives in San Francisco, expressed feeling a rush of surprise and relief upon the announcement of the decision, too, but remained cautious about the long-term outlook for Dreamers.

“Everybody is celebrating and crying,” Escarate said. “It is obviously a very positive ruling… But it should be a motivating factor for all legislators to finally pass some type of permanent protection for us.”

Escarate also acknowledged some hurdles ahead.

“I am obviously very realistic that we’re in an election year. I don’t see them in the next five months getting a bill together that they all agree on,” he said.

The DACA program was created in 2012 under the Obama administration, following more than a decade of unsuccessful congressional attempts to help protect immigrants who came to the U.S. without authorization as minors. The program is only meant to be a stopgap for Dreamers, most of whom do not know a home other than the United States and have deep ties to the country. Many are now college students, working adults, and have family members who are U.S. citizens.

The Supreme Court ruling “was our answer to our failure to enact the Dream Act,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., who in 2001 introduced the first legislation to protect Dreamers, said on the Senate floor Thursday.

Durbin implored Trump and his White House advisers to give DACA beneficiaries until the end of the year — or at least until after the election — before deciding whether to end the program in a way that is consistent with the law. He said that would also give Congress time to “do our part.”

According to polls released this week, two-thirds of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. But Congress has punted the legislative solution on that front for two decades, and has not been able to pass any significant immigration-related legislation for some time. As lawmakers grapple with the coronavirus pandemic and the economic spiral it has created, and as the 2020 presidential election heats up, it’s unlikely that any long-term legislation will see movement in the Senate before the election.

On Thursday, Pelosi renewed her call for Senate leaders to take up a bill that would give Dreamers a pathway to citizenship. The measure passed the House by a vote of 237-187 but has yet to see any Senate action.

“We would like to see that bill pass,” she said. But she added that Democrats also would like to see “comprehensive immigration reform that goes even well beyond the legislation.”

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who said the decision “provides some clarity for the thousands of DACA recipients who call Colorado home,” pledged to work with Democrats to find a legislative fix.

“Congress still needs to reach a long-term solution for Dreamers in the United States — including a pathway to citizenship,” Gardner said. “I will continue to work across the aisle with my colleagues in Congress to deliver certainty for Dreamers in a way the Court cannot.”

But Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said he was not optimistic that the Senate would take up the bill before November since “immigration and deportation are a big linchpin of the president’s agenda.”

DACA was the first immigration program President Donald Trump tried to end shortly after taking office in 2017, arguing that the Obama administration had overstepped in the way it rolled it out. At the time, Trump argued that the termination of the program would afford Congress the opportunity to pass lasting legislation on the matter.

He has since tried to leverage the program several times as a negotiating tool with Congress, unsuccessfully offering to extend DACA protections in exchange for funding his long-promised border wall. Trump’s efforts to end DACA have been thwarted over the past several years by a series of federal court decisions that were eventually appealed to the Supreme Court.

DACA does not grant its recipients permanent legal status, but it does provide temporary protection against deportation and work permits that must be renewed every two years. It allows these undocumented immigrants to get drivers’ licenses in some states, work legally and prosper economically. Rescinding it would leave immigrants vulnerable to deportation, possibly separating them from their families and children.

In the months leading up to Thursday’s decision, the head of the Homeland Security agency responsible for deporting immigrants made his intentions to do so clear if the administration won its case.

On Thursday, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary for Homeland Security, condemned the court’s decision in a tweet.

“Terrible. Awful. Double-standard. Outrageous. Supreme Court says all any President needs is a pen and a phone? Does anyone think they’d let @realDonaldTrump just make up ‘laws’ on sticky notes like @BarackObama,” he wrote.

In recent months, advocacy groups have drawn attention to the numerous contributions DACA recipients have made in the country, particularly within the last few months amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly 29,000 immigrant DACA recipients currently work in the health care industry, many of them as nurses, lab technicians or home health aides — and a majority of them in California, New York and other states with a high volume of coronavirus cases, according to the left-leaning Center for American Progress.


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