U.S. Supreme Court throws out dismantling DACA

by Ricky Rillera

DACA recipients outside of the US Supreme Court . | Photo Cleveland.com

NEW YORK – For thousands of DACA recipients anxiously awaiting their fate, June 18 is like a Juneteenth moment – a sigh of relief – albeit temporary.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a major ruling, blocked the Trump administration from ending a program that allows undocumented immigrants, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), to live and work in the US without fear of deportation.

According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), there are approximately 649,070 active DACA recipients as of December 31, 2019. The Philippines ranks 11th with 3,320. The report reflects the number of individuals with DACA expiring on or about Dec. 31, 2019 as of Dec. 31, 2019. Individuals who have obtained lawful permanent status or U.S. citizenship are excluded.”

Link: USCIS Data

Cristina Godinez, Esq.

Fil-Am immigration lawyer, Cristina Godinez., said: “DACA remains for now because the Trump administration failed to follow the procedure for rescinding the program. The ruling essentially keeps 700,000 Dreamers protected from deportation in the meantime.”

The majority opinion, penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, wrote that the Department of Homeland Security’s action “arbitrary and capricious,” therefore unlawful. The ruling was 5-4 with the four liberal justices concurring, and the four more conservative justices dissenting.

“We do not decide whether DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) or its rescission are sound policies,” Roberts said. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action. Here the agency failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients.”

Link: Supreme Court decision

Prior to the ruling, some observers said the Supreme Court’s decision last June to hear the case signaled a potential win for the White House. Instead, the high court delivered a surprise to the administration.

Lara Gregory, Esq.

Fil-Am lawyer Lara Gregory, reacting on today’s Court ruling, told the Philippine Daily Mirror: “When the constitutional principle of the separation of powers of the government is played out in the eyes of the public with the resulting decision drawing surprised reactions everywhere, it’s a powerful moment of realization that a truly independent judicial review can yield unexpected results and may be done in judges’ chambers, but its practical effect gives hope to dreamers on the streets.”

She said that as the Court pointed out, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) failed to consider what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients. “And whether or not to retain forbearance of removal and such failure amounts to an arbitrary and capricious exercise of its discretion,” she said. “The remand to DHS means that DHS would now have to examine and give dreamers an opportunity to be heard on how the rescission will affect them.”

Roberts argument

Roberts rejected the argument that the winding down of the program was a violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because of animus against Hispanics. Had the court ruled that the equal protection principle had been violated, DACA would have been more fully protected from a new effort to dismantle it.

Thomas’ counterpoint

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the main dissent, in which he said the DACA program was unlawful from the moment President Barack Obama created it in 2012. Gorsuch and Associate Justice Samuel Alito agreed.

“The decision to countermand an unlawful agency action is clearly reasonable,” Thomas said. “So long as the agency’s determination of illegality is sound, our review should be at an end.”

The Honorable US Supreme Court Justices (Left to right top row), Neil Gorsuch, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Brett Kavanaugh. (Left to right bottom row) Stephen Breyer, Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Samuel Alito. | Photo PDM File

Finding a solution to fix a broken system

Congress has debated legislation since 2001 to establish a pathway to legal status for eligible unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the US as children. Failing to fix a broken immigration system, President Barack Obama in 2012, launched the DACA program which offers work authorization and relief from deportation for some such immigrants. A major provision in the DACA program has been that unauthorized-immigrant youth must earn a high school diploma or its equivalent to qualify.

In September 2017, the Trump administration decided to rescind the DACA program and subsequent court orders that have kept it alive but the rescission has since been enjoined by courts, pending final resolution of litigation.

According to USCIS data, since the DACA program started in June 2012, USCIS received total applications or requests for DACA status of 157,826 or a daily average of 4,763 which grew to 575,147 of 1,483,762 as of March 2016. Some requests were accepted, rejected or under review. Recipients are required to renew their status every two years. By February 2019, nearly 910,000 individuals have requested an initial grant of DACA and employment authorization, and there have been roughly 1,511,000 renewal requests.

The need for a comprehensive immigration reform

Ferdinand ”Dean’ Suba, Esq.

Another Fil-Am lawyer from New York, Ferdinand “Dean” Suba, said the Court’s decision is good news for DACA recipients who can continue to renew their employment authorizations and will have temporary protection from deportation. “The public may not know but tens of thousands of Dreamers are actually frontliners: nurses and other healthcare workers including restaurant workers,” he told the Philippine Daily Mirror. “They are some of our modern-day heroes in this time where many have been dying from Covid-19 and others infected with the coronavirus”

Although this is good news, he said it was equally important to give the Dreamers a clear path to citizenship. “We need Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform that will benefit not only the Dreamers but those who have been in this country for a long, long time without lawful permanent residence status.”

NaFFAA applauds decision

In a statement, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), applauded the US Supreme Court’s decision. “NaFFAA has advocated for DACA since its inception and is grateful for the many protections that the program affords so many young Filipinos,” said Brendan Flores, President and National Chairman of NaFFAA. “Of the approximately 800,000 recipients of the relief provided by the federal action, about 5,000 young Filipinos have been given the opportunity to become contributing members of our great nation.”

Flores added that NaFFAA remains committed to protecting DACA. “It is my hope that this program continues to be an equitable pipeline to add to the fabric of our rich and diverse culture here in the United States.”

PACC and NaFFAA assistance

During the time of Fil-Am lawyer J.T. Mallonga, then NaFFAA-chair, the late Merit Salud, then-president of NaFFAA New York chapter, together with the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce (PACC), Gus Mercado, then-executive vice-president, defended the rights of Filipino DACA Dreamers in Texas after they were harassed and arrested by ICE agents in their schools.

Officers of PACC Texas (Gus and Ethel Mercado and Elna Mallari) were joined by then-NaFFAA National Chair Atty. J.T. Mallonga and Atty. Merit Salud in defending the rights of Filipino DACA Dreamers in Texas after they were harassed and arrested by ICE agents in their schools.
| Photo contributed by Gus Mercado

“My faith in the humanity, decency and fairness of the U.S. Supreme Court has been restored with their two recent rulings in favor of two persecuted groups in American society: Their ruling supporting DACA “Dreamers” … and their ruling last week against the practice of firing employees for being gay or transgender,” wrote Mercado, a businessman and a long-time community leader in Texas in his Facebook wall. “These rulings, handed down by the judges without regard for their political affiliations, can only be described as “humane”, “pragmatic”, and “fair”.

Mercado added that his group helped many of the Filipino and Asian DACA Dreamers in Texas with their paperwork and “gave them sanctuary as they cowered in fear while trying to finish college and somehow eke a living, all the while harassed by ICE.”

Read related article: 5 Takeaways from the U.S. Supreme Court Decision on DACA

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