The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, allows undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before they were fifteen years old to stay in the country.
Recipients are given a permit, which must be renewed every two years, that allows them to work in the United States. They must have no felonies or serious misdemeanors on record, and are ineligible for government benefits.
DACA began eight years ago because of an executive order, and now many recipients are in their twenties.
“You are not allowed to apply for any government benefits such as financial aid or medicaid or health insurance,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the executive director of advocacy group Voces de la Frontera. “So that is still a problem because it is very hard for anybody these days to afford college and pay full tuition. And we have a lot of DACA recipients that are working two-three jobs and trying to obtain that higher education.”
According to records from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there are about 700,000 DACA recipients nationwide. In Wisconsin, there are about 6,600 DACA recipients.
While today’s Supreme Court decision comes as a relief to advocates and those recipients, there is still room for legal arguments against the program.
Today, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the Trump administration’s move to end the program was QUOTE arbitrary and capricious, and thus illegal. According to Matt Gillhouse, a Madison-based immigration attorney, the court only objected to the process — not the program itself.
“In simple terms, their initial explanation for why they were ending DACA was poorly done and their attempt to fix that was poorly done,” said Gillhouse. “And because of that the supreme court decided that they didn’t follow the law when they rescinded DACA. So what that means is that the initial program for DACA is back in full force.”
Gillhouse says the court’s decision does not dispute that the president has the legal authority to end the program.
For advocates like Gillhouse and Ortiz, DACA was never the end goal. Even former president Barack Obama, who created the program through an executive order, said it was a temporary fix to a problem that Congress would have to address.
“Now, this is not amnesty, this is not immunity, this is not a path to citizenship, it’s not a permanent fix,” said Obama in June 2012. “This is a temporary, stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people. Precisely because this is temporary, congress needs to act.”
But Congress has yet to address the problem, and DACA recipients still have no path to citizenship. Neumann-Ortiz says that is the bigger problem, and one Congress should address immediately.
“I think the next thing to do will be to ask congress to put a bill to allow DACA recipients to become U.S. citizens. And that will be the right thing to do,” said Neumann-Ortiz.
Gillhouse also says Congress should act, but adds that the decision will give people some sense of security. It will also potentially let more eligible recipients enroll in the program.
“Among other things, we will be working with individuals who never applied for DACA, who are otherwise eligible now to see if we can get their applications in before something else happens,” said Gillhouse. “It seems to me that there is a window of opportunity-I just don’t know how big that window will be-for new applicants, and there are plenty of people who weren’t able to apply for DACA before, but are otherwise eligible.”
Gillhouse says that what many advocates want in a bill is a way for recipients to apply for permanent residency and a future path to citizenship.