After the Supreme Court oral arguments, immigration experts shed light on facts regarding the Trump administration’s efforts to terminate DACA
WHEN the Trump administration announced on Sept. 5, 2017 that it would phase out Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the world turned upside down for hundreds of thousands of program recipients and their families.
Since it was enacted in 2012 by former President Barack Obama, DACA has provided work authorization and protection from deportation for eligible undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as young children. Specific benefits varied from state to state; in California, DACA recipients are eligible for driver’s licenses, for example.
What followed was a turbulent two-year period in which multiple federal courts across the country placed injunctions on the administration’s termination of the program, allowing DACA to remain in operation. The Trump administration has maintained that DACA — which was signed into law through executive order — was enacted unlawfully by the Obama administration, a claim that the federal courts have deemed “capricious” and “arbitrary.”
During this two-year period, DACA recipients across the country have been essentially placed in a state of limbo, unsure whether or not their DACA benefits would be taken away by the Trump administration.
But last month on Nov. 12, the highest court in the nation, the U.S. Supreme Court, began hearing oral arguments for and against the continuation of DACA, leaving the fate of more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants hanging in the balance.
“The Supreme Court has not yet decided the outcome of DACA,” emphasized Tom Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) at a press briefing of immigration experts and DACA recipients held in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, Dec. 11.
And because the court has yet to make a decision on DACA’s fate, experts want to remind DACA recipients and would-be DACA recipients that the program is still open and accepting new and renewal applications.
“The DACA program is still open and this is a really big myth that we’re trying to bust. You can still apply for and renew your DACA status, and there is a network of non-profits here in Los Angeles that are ready to help you,” reiterated Tiffany Panlilio, legal advocate at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, who wanted to quell fears that recipients are experiencing as they await the Supreme Court decision.
Panlilio noted that some immigrants have set up GoFundMe pages in order to help pay the $495 renewal fee, which the Trump administration is looking to increase to $765.
“It’s not a surprise that a lot of these folks are scared. They’re very stressed, and it’s already hard enough for a lot of them to come up with the $495 [fee]; they either have to choose between paying rent and feeding their children or just putting this together.”
Confusion surrounding DACA and the precarious situation it’s currently in often revolves around who DACA recipients actually are.
Opponents of DACA have painted a grim picture of who DACA recipients actually are and where they come from. (The president tweeted in September that “many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from ‘angels.’ Some are very tough, hardened criminals.”)
A majority of DACA recipients hail from Central America, but a strong contingent is of Asian descent; there are about 3,888 Filipino DACA recipients in the U.S., according to 2017 data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
California — in which 1 in 5 DACA recipients is Asian — is home to the largest and one of the most diverse populations of DACA recipients in the country, and they are doctors, business owners, college students, Uber drivers, teachers, and waiters. In other words, they are contributors to the American economy.
A 2017 study from the Center of American Progress showed that 91% of DACA recipients are employed and that 69% were able to move to a job with better pay. Notably, 94% reported that they were able to pursue educational opportunities “that [they] could previously not” without DACA.
Pundits from media outlets including the New York Times, Vox and CNN postulated that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of the Trump administration which will lead to the de facto termination of DACA. But Saenz reiterated the fact that the Supreme Court will have until the end of June 2020 to make a decision, and any postulations that could instill anxiety and confusion within the community of DACA recipients and their families could and should be avoided.
“You cannot predict the outcome of any Supreme Court case by any questions posed by justices during the oral arguments,” Saenz said, referencing the media reaction after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in April regarding the census citizenship question.
Many commentators were adamant that the Supreme Court would allow the question to appear on the census, but two months later, the court decided otherwise.
The current makeup of the Supreme Court — which has five conservatives and four liberals — is not necessarily a reliable determinant for how the court will vote. Further, “irresponsible” punditry and opinionating that posits one way or another before a decision is made can result and has resulted in widespread fear and confusion among immigrant communities, Saenz noted, adding that the decision may come as early as February to the end of June.
He added that DACA recipients should remember three things: know your rights, which include exercising the right to contest removal in the event of an arrest or detention by federal immigration agents; never waive your rights and voluntarily agree to removal, and always know that if you are in either of these situations that you are not alone.
“You have millions of people behind you ready to work with you and support you in asserting your right to a court hearing and ultimately and to remain in this country,” Saenz affirmed.
Saenz added a call to action that goes beyond DACA to all residents of the United States regardless of citizenship: participate in the 2020 census to ensure everyone gets counted and vote in the 2020 election for lawmakers and leaders who “are reflective of the views of all of us” and would enact a long-term solution for all undocumented youth.
“In the end, we know what we’ve always known, which is we need leadership in the United States Congress and in the White House to exercise their authority responsibility and to move forward with a legislative solution to our DACA recipients, a solution that would provide them the right to continue to thrive and to contribute to our economy, society and to our country by being provided legal status,” he said. (Klarize Medenilla/AJPress)