After the Supreme Court ruled on June 18 that the Trump administration could not end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) at this time, Emory administrators, faculty and DACA recipients have responded with mixed feelings ranging from relief to worry about the program’s future.
“I could feel this angst and this fear trapped inside giving way to this hope and optimism that we now have,” said Leida Cisneros (21C), a DACA student and member of Emory’s Undocumented Student Association (Emory USA). “It was just true joy because we can now go to school, go to work, all without facing the fear of deportation. It was this huge, extraordinary victory, but I also realize that the fight isn’t over.”
Although the 5-4 ruling found the Trump administration’s attempt to disband the program unconstitutional, Chief Justice John Roberts made it clear in his majority opinion that the decision was made based on procedural issues. The Trump administration could potentially remove the program with different legal arguments.
This possibility was reflected in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow’s June 19 statement, in which he wrote that the Supreme Court decision “merely delays the President’s lawful ability to end the illegal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals amnesty program.”
Emory Law and Global Health Professor Polly Price expanded on the implications of the Supreme Court’s ruling in a June 19 interview with WABE, NPR’s Atlanta radio station, saying it was a “limited victory, but a victory nonetheless.”
“It is a limited ruling in the sense that it does not say that the Trump administration cannot rescind DACA,” Price said. “In fact, all of the parties before the course agree that he can do so, just that in this instance in 2017 … they hadn’t done it properly under the Administrative Procedure Act.”
Price told the Wheel in a July 9 email that she expects there will be further litigation in lower courts on how the Department of Homeland Security will begin taking DACA applications again, as well as to determine if DACA benefits like work permits or driver’s licenses are legal. While DACA students can currently obtain these benefits in 15 states and the District of Columbia, this particular provision has been subject to legal controversy.
Another DACA student and Emory USA member who wished to remain anonymous echoed Cisneros’ shock that the highest court had ruled in her and 700,000 other DACA students’ favors, albeit temporarily.
“I was honestly very surprised,” she said. “I think a lot of DACA students and individuals who follow this topic were literally preparing for the worst.”
An immigrant from Poland, she has lived in the United States since she was six years old and didn’t know she was undocumented until middle school when she wasn’t able to go on international class trips like the rest of her peers. When the DACA program was established under the Obama administration, she and her family felt “huge relief” because it allowed her to obtain important documentation such as a driver’s license and work permit.
After the Trump administration announced its first attempt to roll back the program in 2017, however, the student has been “terrified” that her family would be deported from the country they had called home for 15 years.
“There’s this notion that no matter how hard you work, you’re only gonna get halfway to the point where citizens usually get,” she said. “I push and push and push to prove to this country that I’m worth being here, but then there are these situations where it just feels like it’s never enough because I’m just one person, I’m a statistic, a pawn in a political game.”
On July 11, over 140 major companies and trade associations calling themselves “The Coalition for the American Dream” submitted a letter to Trump asking him to keep the DACA program in place. “This is no time to disrupt the economic recovery of our companies and communities, nor time to jeopardize the health and safety of these vulnerable individuals,” the coalition wrote.
A study by think tank Pew Research Center released on June 17 found that approximately three quarters of adults in the U.S. support giving individuals who came to the country illegally as children permanent legal status.
In a July 10 interview with Telemundo, Trump claimed that he plans to sign an executive order in coming weeks on immigration with aspects concerning the DACA program, saying, “We are going to have a road to citizenship.”
However, the Trump administration has still not accepted any new DACA applications in the wake of this ruling, in a move that indicates they are sidestepping the Supreme Court decision.
Price believes that DACA’s future should be left to Congress to make a final decision rather than the courts. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act legislation has been introduced in Congress several times over the past two decades and only fell six votes short of passing in the U.S. Senate in 2012. But Price does not foresee significant change to DACA students’ statuses prior to the November election.
“The Supreme Court cannot make law; it only interprets what Congress enacts,” Price explained to the Wheel. “Only Congress can provide a path to citizenship and only Congress can provide a permanent solution … I don’t think it is likely this Congress will take up the DREAM Act in an election year, but the November election could make the DREAM Act politically possible.”
Emory administrators have expressed that, irrespective of future changes, they will remain supportive of their DACA students. University President Claire E. Sterk and President-Elect Greg Fenves said in a June 18 email to students that they were “pleased” the DACA program had been permitted to continue.
“While the Court’s decision is a positive step, immigration issues are far from resolved,” Sterk and Fenves wrote. “Emory will continue its efforts to encourage Congress to pass bipartisan legislation to protect Dreamers. We remain committed and unwavering in our resolve and support for all members of our university.”
As an immigrant from El Salvador whose family is here legally, Cisneros considers herself more fortunate than many other DACA students. One factor she believes has eased her difficulties as a DACA recipient is that she’s found a supportive environment at Emory.
“Although there aren’t many of us, I love Emory because I think it’s a perfect place to raise awareness and create this sort of blueprint for future undocumented students,” she said. “You guys understand that undocumented students are just this tiny piece of this mosaic that makes up Emory University.”
Though the anonymous student believes the DACA program should continue for now, she hopes Congress will generate a more permanent solution to help both DACA students and their families.
“My biggest fear is that the program ends without any solution,” she said. “The DACA program is great, but it’s very stagnant in what it offers students; you just renew and renew. It’s not just these students that deserve justice but also their families who have been slaving away, working below minimum wage that contribute to the economy in a very positive way.”
As the futures of DACA recipients remain uncertain, Price emphasized that Emory community members like herself are here to support these students, writing, “Please know that there are many, many on your side who will keep up the good fight for you and for the DREAM Act, until we see justice done and can proudly embrace you as full citizens.”