Editor’s Note: The author is a contributor to Latino Rebels. He has given us permission to reprint his latest op-ed on our site.
“Arbitrary and capricious”—those were the words Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts used Thursday to describe the Trump administration’s reasoning to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Given the proclivity of the Supreme Court to support President Donald Trump’s controversial policies, it comes as a major surprise —the second one in as many weeks— that the court decided against terminating DACA. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court eased the turmoil and uncertainty that 700,000 DACA recipients —the DACAmented— have endured since Trump decided three years ago to end the program. The Supreme Court ruling came three days after DACA’s eighth anniversary.
In its decision, the Supreme Court said the Trump administration used arbitrary and capricious reasoning to defend its actions to terminate DACA. In particular, the court called attention to the Department of Homeland Security coming up with its reasoning nine months after Trump made the decision to do away with the program.
As such, there are similarities to the Trump administration’s thinking when it tried, unsuccessfully, to prove to the Supreme Court that its decision to insert the citizenship question in the 2020 census was well-thought-out and reasonable. In both cases, shoddy after-the-fact rationale.
This is not only a major victory for the DACAmented, but also for the country. DACA recipients were brought to the United States as children—many of them don’t even remember the lands from where they originated. While far from the ideal of creating a path to citizenship, DACA protected the DACAmented from deportation and authorized them to continue their studies and to work.
For many DACA recipients, this was the first time they could exist without fear of being apprehended and deported. It also allowed them to work overtly, rather than in the shadows of the economy. DACA opened slightly the door to the opportunity structure for youth who had graduated from high school and found themselves blocked from prosperity in the only country they recognized as home. Terminating the program would erase the security and possibilities that DACA provided.
Not only did DACA recipients benefit from the program, but so, too, did the country. Before the establishment of DACA, the nation was essentially jettisoning the energy, the human capital and the skills that Dreamers bring, not to mention the additional taxes that higher wages generate when people can work with proper authorization. Indeed, the nation has invested in the education of undocumented youth in its public schools yet erected major barriers to keep them unauthorized to work, thus limiting the benefits the country can reap from its investments.
Trump is a businessman, though, as some would argue, not a very successful one. He should know that with his decision to end DACA, he is throwing money away. As he has done with the border wall, his deportation machine, his separation of immigrant children from their parents, and related efforts, he used DACA to feed the anti-immigrant whims of his rabid supporters and its recipients as a bargaining chip to gain resources for his hideous wall.
The American public has been much more supportive of DACA recipients and, more widely, those who also arrived at a young age but did not meet the requirements of the DACA program. Just a day before the Supreme Court ruling, the Pew Research Center released a report showing three-fourths of adults in the country support a law that would grant legal status to people brought to the U.S. as unauthorized immigrants when they were young. While the support is highest among Democrats (91 percent) and Latinos (88 percent), a majority of Republicans (54 percent) and whites (69 percent) also favor this legislation.
Let us see what happens in November. Major Democrat victories over Trump and many of his allies who are up for re-election could alter the political landscape for passing immigration reform that includes the DACAmented but also wider segments of the undocumented community.
Rogelio Sáenz is professor in the Department of Demography at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is co-author of the book “Latinos in the United States: Diversity and Change.” Sáenz is a regular contributor of op-ed essays to newspapers throughout the country. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @RogelioSaenz42.