Any protection the courts offer Dreamers is temporary, but all eyes are on the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether it will take on the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
There have been numerous lawsuits filed since the Sept. 5, 2017 announcement that the government would end DACA, but the federal government made a rare move in mid-January by petitioning the highest court to weigh in on its decision before a review by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The request was made after Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction requiring the federal government to maintain DACA nationwide except in few cases.
Individuals and advocates who are following litigation closely are encouraged by lower court rulings in favor of maintaining DACA, but they say the real solution has to come from Congress, which has failed to act thus far.
“The way DACA is currently being handled in the courts is a small win, however, it is taking the pressure off of Congress,” said Jocelyn Cassanova, a 22-year-old Raleigh resident and DACA recipient. “We need a permanent solution for Dreamers. It is affecting us in our daily lives, work, school and even family.”
The DACA program allows undocumented individuals who came to the U.S. as children to apply for a renewable two-year protection from deportation and authorization to work. It’s estimated the program has protected 800,000 individuals.
The abrupt process to end the program that was announced in September has created chaos and confusion, particularly among those enrolled in DACA.
“I find it difficult waking up every morning not knowing what kind of news I will read in the media,” Cassanova said. “It is as if I’m walking on thin ice not knowing if the next step I take will hit the ground. The uncertainty is cruel because all I want to do is to make a life here. I want to finish my education, buy a home and contribute back to this country that I have grown to love since I got here when I was four.”
It’s not an unusual routine for DACA recipients, particularly those who are in school, according to Guilford College President Jane Fernandes.
“My future doesn’t depend on what’s happening but the students’ lives depend on it,” she said of trying to keep up with DACA changes, news and litigation. “Their worlds have gone topsy-turvy; they’re on a roller coaster. They don’t know what’s happening from one day to the next, and they do despair about their futures.”
Fernandes is a founding member of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, a coalition of American college and university leaders dedicated to increasing public understanding of how immigration policies and practices impact students, campuses and communities.
“We in colleges must be attentive because so many Dreamers are a part of our campuses; they’re part of the fabric of our communities; some are employees here,” she said. “The courts seem to be more of a temporary fix. I think we really need a permanent solution.”
Fernandes said there is a heightened need for Congress to act because any DACA students who fall out of status face negative consequences that will also affect the communities in which they live and work.
For example, any student who falls out of DACA status would no longer be permitted to work legally, which might mean they can’t pay tuition and have to take a break from work and school until things are sorted out.
Fernandes said DACA students and undocumented students graduate at a higher rate than all other students “because they’re so driven.” It doesn’t add up, she added, to hinder them after so many years of helping them.
She gave a real example of a student named Hector who came to the U.S. when he was 8 years old. He didn’t speak English at the time but went on to graduate as valedictorian of his high school class and is now set to graduate from Guilford College in May.
“Our country will not be served if we do not help these students who we’ve invested so much in,” she said. “I think we need to do the right thing and be the country we say we are.”
Sarah Colwell, a staff attorney with the North Carolina Justice Center’s Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, said she and her colleagues are monitoring DACA litigation to ensure that North Carolinians with status under the program have access to accurate information about their status and ability to renew. [The Justice Center is the parent organization of NC Policy Watch.]
“By ending DACA without proper notice and process, the Trump Administration created chaos and placed thousands of young lives in limbo,” she said. “Fortunately, due to the court’s recognition that prohibiting the renewal of DACA status on a case-by-case basis while litigation is pending would cause irreparable harm, some DACA holders will be able to apply for at least one more renewal of their DACA status.”
The Supreme Court reviewed the government’s request to take on the DACA dispute last week and the matter could be considered tomorrow during the justices’ Friday conference. If they do arrive at a decision during the conference, it may not be made public until Monday.
In the meantime, Colwell said awaiting court decision after court decision is drawing out the period of uncertainly, leaving many individuals to feel unsafe in their communities.
“It is, therefore, crucial that these court proceedings do not distract us from the true goal, which is a bipartisan Dream Act,” she added. “It is time for Congress to pass a permanent solution for Dreamers; specifically one that will guarantee a pathway to citizenship without conditioning that pathway on the funding of an unnecessary wall, the increased militarization of our borders, or enhanced deportation mechanisms.”
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is part of a federal challenge to the Trump administration’s decision to end the DACA program. He vowed to continue fighting for young North Carolinians enrolled in DACA.
“Ending DACA isn’t just cruel to Dreamers, against our American values, and the wrong thing to do for our nation’s economy, it also violates our Constitution,” he said. “I will do everything in my power to restore DACA for the tens of thousands of young people in North Carolina who rely on it – including fighting for them in court.”
The National Immigration Law Center keeps track of current DACA litigation and includes updates here.
The Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project has a hotline for any current or past DACA recipient who needs help understanding how ongoing litigation impact their case. The DACA-specific intake line is open between 2 and 5 p.m. on Wednesday’s at 1-888-251-2776.