On June 16, 2015, Donald Trump formally announced his candidacy for president, and minutes after beginning his first rally, Trump promised the crowd that he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood program – otherwise known as DACA – if he were to be elected. This promise only gave us a small glimpse into his anti-immigration rhetoric as it was soon followed by disparaging and prejudiced comments towards Mexicans, Muslims, and other non-white ethnicities. It became one of the central ideas of his presidential campaign, which only fueled the anxiety of undocumented immigrants. The Trump administration phased out the program nearly two years later in 2017, leaving nearly 700,000 Dreamers in the shadows of an uncertain future, and through all of this led to the recent Supreme Court decision.
Lives were at stake in the weeks coming up to the Supreme Court’s decision. The reality of living as an undocumented immigrant in the United States interferes in everyday life in ways that one would not expect. There is the constant fear that any day may be the last one spent as a family, making each “I love you” much more meaningful and equally distraught, because there is the never-ending worry that someone will be deported. Each night, the same question looms in their minds, “Am I going to lose everything?”. The fear and anxiety was put at ease for a moment when Barack Obama announced the DACA program in the summer of 2012, but that moment was only temporary.
DACA was launched by the Obama administration through an executive order, and it allowed young immigrants to work and/or study in the United States without the fear of deportation. Recipients of the program are known as ‘Dreamers’: a reference to the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act that has failed to pass Congress, despite several attempts, since its introduction in 2001. Besides the already extensive application process for the program, there are various requirements that applicants must meet first, and those listed below are just a few.
- Be 31 years old as of June 15, 2012
- First came to the U.S. before their sixteenth birthday
- Are currently studying, or has graduated from from high school or earned a certificate of completion of high school or GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or military
- Has NOT been convicted of a felony, certain significant misdemeanors (including a single D.U.I.) or three or more misdemeanors of any kind
A great portion of the Dreamers were brought into the United States at such a young age that they have no memories or personal connection with their native country – one that they have never returned to because the same issues of political persecution, poverty, and violence their families fled from are still relevant today. Many of them did not realize they were undocumented until their teenage years, and the basic passages of life were impossible for Dreamers because they did not have a Social Security number; thus, preventing them from getting a driver’s license along with applying for financial aid and scholarships. This ultimately limited the same opportunities they vied for in the first place.
DACA was always meant to be a temporary shield from deportation as Dreamers today do not have a path to citizenship, but in the five years that the program was available, it was able to open up new opportunities that changed their lives in unimaginable ways. Robert G. Gonzales, a professor at Harvard University, conducted a national research study that followed the lives of Dreamers and studied how they benefited from the program as well the external impacts. Nearly sixteen months after the program was launched, one-fifth of the people surveyed reported that they were able to obtain a paid internship, and 59% of the respondents reported that they were able to get a new job. In addition to the economic benefits, the participants in the survey said that the passing of DACA motivated them to enroll in community-college or job-training programs in their communities. Therefore, not only did the fear of deportation ease off the shoulders of the young immigrants (which improved their stress levels and mental health), but new opportunities for social mobility became available. This gave Dreamers a glimmer of hope that the better life, the opportunities, and the American Dream they had heard about were now within reach rather than an unattainable goal.
Unfortunately, the glimmer of hope was quickly shut off by the Trump administration, arguing that DACA was unconstitutional because the Obama administration overreached its presidential power when creating the program. For the past three years, Dreamers have been in a limbo as their future in this country was in the hands of the highest court of the land. They placed their trust in a government that serves to protect democracy and promote inclusivity, but the sentiment is not being returned. The uncertainty resurfaced, but this time the federal government had access to their highly sensitive information that could quicken their deportation. As the date for the decision’s release came closer, the same question was posed again, “Am I going to lose everything?”.
The question was answered on June 18, 2020 in a 5-4 decision, that once again demonstrates a divided court, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with “liberal” judges. What was even more surprising was that the Chief Justice wrote the majority opinion which ruled that the Trump administration failed to provide adequate reasoning to justify the end of the program, even going as far to say that the obvious hurry to terminate the program was “arbitrary and capricious.” Chief Justice John Roberts was joined in his opinion by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, and Elena Kagan, when the ruling declared that the Trump administration cannot immediately end the program. Therefore, the 700,000 Dreamers can renew their membership and will not be deported in the near future. Because the decision only dealt with the procedural requirements and reasoning to end the program, the Trump administration can try again in the future and has already promised to do so.
A breath of relief was shared amongst all Dreamers. They can continue working for their degrees whether it be high school, community college, or university. They can continue pursuing their careers. They can continue to thrive in the country they call home. Yes. They can do all this, but the relief is again only temporary. The fear of deportation and family separation will still loom over their heads until there is a proper path to citizenship, but as of yet, that is still not possible. Thousands of lives depend on the Dreamers as they become a symbol of hope within their communities because the opportunities that are now available to them pose a generational shift towards a new life.
The fight for equality must not end with the recent Supreme Court decision as the Trump administration has promised to have “zero-tolerance” with the undocumented community. Our current system that is handled by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) poses difficult obstacles for immigrants to apply for residency or visas in the United States, making the process confusing and time consuming with some people receiving their citizenship in as little as six months to others in twenty-five years. Keep in mind that some families do not have the luxury of time as they desperately need to leave their native country. In addition to this, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency holds onto xenophobic values that have been only been perpetuated by the current administration in recent years. A government that proclaims to represent freedom and equality for all is not extending the same courtesy to the undocumented community and leaving Dreamers with a tenuous future.
Generation Z has demonstrated that we have the drive to initiate movements and advocate for equality and opportunity. Elections are occurring all around the United States, and if you are eligible to vote, research your candidates and learn about their stance on immigrants and a path to citizenship. If you are not eligible to vote, then you can take the time to learn more about the experience of living as an undocumented person in the United States, and why a family decided that it was safer to immigrate rather than staying in their native country. March beside Dreamers in your cities as they hold onto banners, support local businesses owned by undocumented families, and uplift their voices as they speak about their lives. The Trump administration will continue in its efforts to end DACA and other similar programs, but until then, Dreamers are here to stay.
NBC News, June 25, 2020, By Suzanne Gamboa
By Robert G. Gonzales, February 16, 2018, Vox
By Catlin Dickerson; July 3, 2020; NYT
Transcriber, writer, editor
Paulina is an 18-year-old college freshman who has a passion for community and social activism – especially within the areas of writing, politics, and law. Her passion for her community extends through her leadership in various programs spanning from Latinx programs, campaigning in local elections, public education fellowships, and more. As she continues to explore her interests, Paulina’s ultimate goal is to make a positive impact in her community.