The U.S. Supreme Court provided a welcome — if surprising — reprieve to 700,000 immigrants Thursday by upholding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But the ruling should also serve as an urgent warning that DACA recipients have no permanent guarantee against deportation.
Written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the 5-4 decision rejected President Donald Trump’s move to end DACA on bureaucratic grounds. Yet the door remains open for a future cancellation if the administration better explains its rationale. Until strong immigration reform puts DACA and other reasonable policies into law, people brought into the United States as children will face the threat of deportation as the whims of presidential policy dictate.
In Washington alone, 16,000 “Dreamers” must live in this state of perennial uncertainty. For decades now, Congress has bottled up meaningful compassionate immigration reform, leaving little bulwark against sudden shifts and sweeping deportations.
President Barack Obama created DACA in 2012 as an end run around Congress’s failure. The policy gives renewable two-year exemptions from deportations for childhood arrivals who are productive and law-abiding residents. It provides no path to citizenship, but it helps people who have spent little, if any, time in their native nations live and contribute like Americans. This includes going to college, building businesses and serving in the military. It also includes growing families; about 250,000 children have been born to DACA recipients living in the U.S.
But what presidential action can give, presidential action can revoke. Such was the case when Trump’s incendiary campaign rhetoric against immigration was translated into official actions.
Chief Justice Roberts sidestepped the connection between Trump’s anti-Hispanic statements and the revocation of DACA in his majority opinion, calling the words “remote in time and made in unrelated contexts” from a decision made by cabinet members. But that is preposterous. Trump speaks, and his deputies carry it out. Justice Sonia Sotomayor correctly flagged in her partial concurrence and dissent that Trump’s words need to be considered instructions for his appointees, not flippant side-talk.
Roberts’ majority decision might have rebuffed administration officials’ first attempt to reverse immigration policy to match the president’s wishes. But the narrow reason for preserving DACA shows the administration a mistake to avoid in a future attack. The decision buys valuable time for Dreamers and their advocates, and November’s election is fast approaching. Voters should take notice.
That is not enough, however.
A just and welcoming American society needs to set into law how a person once carried here in the arms of a parent, through no choice of their own, can lead a good life here without fear of forced displacement. Congress, it’s up to you.