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Where Are We in the Fight for Dreamers?

Youth protesting for DACA protections
Youth protesting for DACA protections
Jennifer Chang Newell,
Managing Attorney, California Office,
ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project
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June 20, 2018

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program turned 6 years old last week. The future of the program, which has transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants and injected billions of dollars into the U.S. economy, remains uncertain.

Last September, President Trump announced he was ending the DACA program, placing hundreds of thousands of recipients who came to this country as children at risk of deportation. Nine months and many twists and turns later, DACA recipients remain in limbo. Immigration bills scheduled for a vote this week do nothing to appropriately address the problem. In the meantime, various courts have weighed in. Below is a recap on where DACA currently stands.

Congress continues to drop the ball

When Trump announced his rescission of the program in September, he said he was giving Congress six months to enact a solution for DACA recipients. Those six months have come and gone. Although there is broad public support for enacting a permanent solution for immigrant youth, and despite bipartisan congressional support, Congress has made little progress.

On Thursday, the House is likely to vote on two anti-immigrant bills that have zero chance of passing the Senate — one from Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and one from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). President Trump has indicated he would support either proposal; this is unsurprising, given that both bills embrace the White House’s anti-immigrant wish list.

The Ryan bill claims to end family separation and protect Dreamers. But make no mistake, this bill — despite what Ryan claims — will not stop family separation. Moreover, it purports to address the uncertainty faced by Dreamers, but in fact, provides limited legal protection to DACA-eligible individuals. Worse still, the bill expands the dragnet of detention and deportation of immigrants and ramps up the administration’s unrelenting enforcement machinery in ways that raise serious constitutional concerns. This bill is a non-starter; it does not resolve crisis after crisis created by the Trump administration — from its rescission of DACA to its horrific family separation policy.

The bill’s “protections” for Dreamers involve the creation of a convoluted path to citizenship for DACA-eligible individuals using an untested points system. This path to citizenship can be eliminated if the Department of Homeland Security rescinds or transfers a penny of the $23 billion for anything other than the wall or even more enforcement at the border.

The bill literally holds Dreamers ransom for Trump’s wall.

The Goodlatte bill cuts legal immigration and expands detention and deportation laws and programs like 287(g), which deputizes state and local law enforcement to act as federal immigration enforcement agents. The bill does not give Dreamers a path to citizenship. In fact, it actually criminalizes unlawful presence. A very similar bill embracing the White House’s framework failed spectacularly in the Senate earlier this year, making the House version essentially dead on arrival.

Courts continue to step in to protect DACA recipients

Individual DACA recipients, 19 states, the District of Columbia, a couple of localities, and immigrants’ rights and other organizations have filed multiple lawsuits to block Trump’s rescission of DACA. In two cases — in California and New York — federal courts have issued orders that require the government to continue accepting DACA applications from current or former DACA recipients nationwide.

These courts concluded that the government’s rescission of the program was likely unlawful, rejected the government’s view that the creation of the DACA program exceeded the powers of the immigration authorities, and held that the reasons the government gave for ending the program were inadequate. The government has appealed each of those decisions, and those appeals are pending in the Ninth Circuit and Second Circuit Courts of Appeals.

Meanwhile, a third federal court — in the District of Columbia — likewise concluded that the rescission of the program was improper, and it gave the government 90 days, or until July 23, to provide stronger reasoning. If the government declines to issue new reasoning, then the D.C. court has said that it will order the government to accept new applications as well as renewals.

Even before the Trump administration tried to end the DACA program, officials had been targeting individual DACA recipients for arbitrary terminations of their DACA grants and work permits. They stripped this protection, for example, from Jessica Colotl, an Atlanta immigration paralegal and activist who was one of the original inspirations for the DACA program. Last year, as the ACLU fought in court to get Jessica’s DACA back, we learned that what happened to her was happening to many DACA recipients around the country.

We then filed a nationwide class-action lawsuit on a behalf of DACA recipients who had had their protections terminated without any notice or explanation, along with an immigrant youth advocacy organization, Inland Empire – Immigrant Youth Collective. In February, we won a nationwide, class-wide injunction that prohibits the government from terminating any class member’s DACA without first providing them with notice, an explanation for the termination, and a chance to be heard.

Seven states unite with the U.S. government — against the U.S. government

Apparently dissatisfied with the multiple court decisions showing that the Trump administration’s attempt to end DACA is unlawful, on May 1, seven states — Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, and West Virginia — filed a lawsuit in Brownsville, Texas, against the federal government, seeking to force an end to the DACA program.

These states argue that the program is unlawful mainly because its creation exceeds the president’s powers. The seven states are seeking a court order blocking the federal government from issuing new DACA grants or renewals — an injunction that would directly contradict the court orders requiring the government to keep the program in place.

On May 15, the Texas district court issued a decision allowing 22 individual DACA recipients to participate in the lawsuit and defend the legality of the program.

Then, the federal government filed papers in the Texas case agreeing with the seven states and arguing that the DACA program is illegal. The Texas district court has set a hearing for July 17 for the states’ request for an injunction blocking the government from issuing any more grants of DACA.

As the court battles play out, the one thing both sides of the aisle can agree on is that Congress has the power to fix the mess that the president made. Congress should provide a permanent solution for these young immigrants in a clean bill without unprecedented border funding, dismantling fundamental due process protections, and enabling mass family prisons. Congress must act to ensure that these young immigrants can continue to contribute to our communities, raise their families, and live their lives in this country they call home — without sacrificing fairness and humane treatment for all immigrants.