DACA Is Going Before The Supreme Court, And People Are Scared

Immigration rights activists take part in a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 12, 2019, a day justices were hearing arguments on the fate of DACA. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Rosa Barrientos says during her senior year of high school she used to hide in the restrooms with a select group of friends to talk about their college options.

"We huddled where nobody could hear us so we can talk about what it was like to be undocumented," she says.

That, and driving. Other kids were getting their licenses. Barrientos kept catching rides.

"When people asked me, 'Why don't you have your driver's license?' I [told] them, 'I don't want to learn how to drive.' But the truth was that I was undocumented."

Barrientos graduated in 2012, the same year President Barack Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Barrientos applied for DACA the first day anyone could, and she was approved. Barrientos was able to get a license, work, and go to college without paying out-of-state prices.

In those first five years, Barrientos built a new life and stopped "hiding in the shadows," as she puts it. Then in 2017, she had to put grad school on hold. That was the year the Trump administration announced a plan to phase out DACA.

"I think the time right now is to be out in the streets of my community," Barrientos says. She's been organizing for the past two years as part of CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights), while the efforts to end DACA have been fought in court after court.

That battle culminates this week as the Supreme Court begins to hear oral arguments in the case that will decide if President Donald Trump acted lawfully in ending DACA.

"So far the lower courts have been on our side" Barrientos says. "But in the Supreme Court, it's just a whole different ballpark."

More than 100 DACA recipients and their supporters held a press conference in Venice Saturday, Nov. 19, 2019. (Photo by Erick Galindo/LAist)

THE DETAILS

  • DACA protects younger unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. It allows them to work, obtain driver's licenses, and travel within the country, and it grants them other benefits enjoyed by most green card holders.
  • Former President Barack Obama created DACA through an executive order on June 15, 2012. The Trump administration announced it was ending the program on Sept. 5, 2017. The order to end the program was successfully challenged in court by the University of California Regents and the NAACP, among others, and for now the program continues based on federal court rulings.
  • The Trump administration has appealed the lower court rulings to the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on three combined cases and decide if the administration violated due process protection under the 5th Amendment when it rescinded DACA.

WHY IT MATTERS

In California alone, there are roughly 200,000 DACA holders. Nationwide, estimates for the total number of DACA holders vary between 700,000 and 825,000.

The Center for American Progress reported recently that California's DACA residents contribute $1 billion annually in state and local taxes, and that about 10,000 of them are homeowners.

"But they're more than that," says Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. "They're moms and dads, and they're daughters and sons. They are teachers, lawyers, engineers. They are so much. And so what we want is to really convey to the justices how important these young men and women are for our country, certainly for the state of California."

THE CONTEXT

The battle over DACA actually can be traced back to the DREAM Act. In 2010, a bipartisan push to pass the legislation was blocked by a filibuster. It would have given legal status to children who were brought to the U.S. unlawfully as minors. It was supported by both President George W. Bush and his successor President Obama.

The Obama administration's failure to pass any kind of comprehensive immigration reform remains a topic of debate during the Democratic primaries. Obama himself seemed spent in his announcement of DACA seven years ago. When he introduced it, he called on Congress "to act" and said DACA was a "temporary stopgap."

"We're even more angry that Congress hasn't acted on a permanent solution," Salas says. "We have the Dream and Promise Act that was passed in the House of Representatives, but the Senate won't take action. They haven't taken action in years, and people's lives have been left in limbo."

WHAT'S NEXT

Here are three possible outcomes as the Supreme Court hears the case:

  • SCOTUS could decide to uphold lower court opinions that the Trump administration did not lawfully end DACA.
  • The court could also decide the government acted lawfully in ending the program.
  • Or it could rule that the stated reason to end DACA provided by the government is insufficient and compel the government to provide an alternative reason.

At the time DACA was rescinded, President Trump issued a statement saying that the "Attorney General of the United States, the Attorneys General of many states, and virtually all other top legal experts have advised that the program is unlawful and unconstitutional and cannot be successfully defended in court."

In his statement the president also criticized his predecessor in the White House for "making an end-run around Congress" in implementing DACA.

But the Supreme Court's decision will hinge on whether or not President Trump acted "in an arbitrary way" when he rescinded DACA, says Jason Whitehead, a professor of political science at Cal State Long Beach.

"It's called the Arbitrary and Capricious Standard," Whitehead explains. "He has to act in a rational way. Especially if people are already relying on the law as it is now, he can only change it if there's a reasonable process for changing it."

The plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case are arguing that Trump did it "for very arbitrary reasons," Whitehead says. "That had nothing really to do with a change of policy, but simply, they just didn't like the fact that the previous administration had done it."

A second argument, he says, focuses on the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. "There's a constitutional challenge," Whitehead says. "People have to be given the proper procedures when something like this happens."

"My guess is they're going to say, look, if, if he can do it eventually anyway, he just needs to come up with a fair set of policies and reasons why he's doing it," Whitehead says. "That's good enough for them, probably."

"If the liberals [on the court] get the majority, or if it's a kind of split decision going the other way, then it's probably more of a delay than anything else," Whitehead adds. "But it puts the onus on the Trump administration during an election year to come up with a set of policies that basically says, 'We don't think these 800,000 people ought to be protected.'"