IN JUNE, NEARLY 700,000 DACA recipients could breathe a sigh of relief when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The court determined that the basis for President Trump’s action was “arbitrary and capricious.” The grounds presented for termination failed to consider the impact of the program’s rescission, wrote Chief Justice John Roberts.
The grounds of the ruling are important because the court did not address whether DACA was legal. For now, DACA remains fragile. People who have benefited from the program, put in place by executive action under President Barack Obama in 2012, can continue to obtain valid work permits and are protected from deportation. An estimated 130,000 people would have been eligible to submit new applications for the program, except that the Trump administration released a memo on July 28 saying it would “reject all initial requests for DACA and associated applications for Employment Authorization Documents.”
This momentary reprieve and upsurge of hope resulted from decades of fierce social, political, and legal organizing by undocumented youth and their supporters, often at great personal risk. The Trump administration may decide to attack DACA again. It would likely be a costly undertaking since a substantial bipartisan majority of Americans support DACA.
While DACA prevents the eviction from the U.S. of a sector of immigrants, it does not dismantle the massive deportation machine that operates in this country nor create a pathway to citizenship—key components of comprehensive immigration reform. Authentic immigration reform begins with the recognition that U.S. immigration laws, from their inception, have been informed by discriminatory narratives. The first immigration law, the Naturalization Act of 1790, made it possible for those born elsewhere to become citizens—but only if they were “free white persons” (“white” meaning certain Europeans, and “persons” essentially meaning men), excluding enslaved people, Native Americans, those without property, most women, and all others not defined as white. Only property-owning white male citizens could vote.