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Dreamers, Congress see hard work ahead despite court ruling

Lawmakers said a permanent legislative fix is still needed to help "Dreamers"

CLARIFIED, June 23 |The Supreme Court ruling that spells relief for the thousands of undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children also takes pressure off Congress to find an immediate fix to their predicament.

But lawmakers said it highlights the need to find a permanent legislative solution since the court ruling leaves the door open for the Trump administration to make another attempt at ending the popular Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled against a White House attempt to end the Obama-era program that has given 700,000 of these so-called Dreamers the ability to work in the United States and protection against deportation, calling Trump’s move to end it “arbitrary and capricious.”  

President Donald Trump criticized the decision in a series of tweets that suggested he might try another effort to rescind the program.

“As President of the United States, I am asking for a legal solution on DACA, not a political one, consistent with the rule of law,” he said in one tweet.  “The Supreme Court is not willing to give us one, so now we have to start this process all over again.”

But Democrats and many Republicans celebrated the ruling. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Dreamers have garnered widespread support from all ends of the political spectrum, including Trump supporters. On Thursday, she said the high court’s decision “supports our values as a country” but admitted that she had feared a different ruling.

“We were in just in such dread about what could possibly happen at the court up until last night — if it goes this way, if it goes that way,” Pelosi told reporters. “But this way is the American way, and we’re very proud of it.”

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Pelosi also renewed her call for Senate leaders to take up a bill that would give Dreamers a pathway to citizenship. The measure passed the House by a vote of 237-187 but has yet to see any Senate action.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not yet commented on the prospects of this or similar legislation, but some Republican senators seemed amenable.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who has expressed support for DACA recipients in the past, said the SupremeCourt ruling “has thrust upon us a unique moment and an opportunity.”

“We need to take action and pass legislation that will unequivocally allow these young men and women to stay in the only home, the only country, they’ve known,” he said.

Cornyn has voted against certain versions of bills that would help Dreamers but he also has co-sponsored legislation with protections for them that also included border security measures. He said Congress does need to fix DACA but admitted that “comprehensive immigration reform has never worked” so lawmakers will need to tackle any solution “in bite-sized pieces and deal with it incrementally.”

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., who in 2001 introduced the first legislation to protect Dreamers, called upon Trump and his White House advisers to give DACA beneficiaries until the end of the year — or at least until after the election — before deciding whether to end the program in a way that is consistent with the law.

He said that would also give Congress time to “do our part.” Otherwise, he told reporters, Trump “could decide today or tomorrow or next week to do it again and do it differently this time so it might pass court muster.”

When asked if a deal would be possible before November he said: “It’s worth trying. I’ve been trying for 20 years.”

The DACA program was created in 2012 under the Obama administration, following more than a decade of unsuccessful congressional attempts to help protect immigrants who came to the U.S. without authorization as minors. The program is only meant to be a stopgap for Dreamers, most of whom do not know a home other than the United States and have deep ties to the country. Many are now college students, working adults, and have family members who are U.S. citizens.  

According to polls released this week, two-thirds of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. But Congress has punted the legislative solution on that front for two decades, and has not been able to pass any significant immigration-related legislation for some time. As lawmakers grapple with the coronavirus pandemic and the economic spiral it has created, and as the 2020 presidential election heats up, Dreamers and their advocates admitted it’s unlikely that any long-term legislation will see movement before the election.

Adrian Escarate, a 31-year-old Dreamer originally from Chile who now lives in San Francisco, expressed feeling a rush of surprise and relief upon the announcement of the decision, too, but remained cautious about the long-term outlook.

“Everybody is celebrating and crying. It is obviously a very positive ruling,” Escarate said. “I am obviously very realistic that we’re in an election year. I don’t see them in the next five months getting a bill together that they all agree on.”

DACA was the first immigration program Trump tried to end shortly after taking office in 2017, arguing that the Obama administration had overstepped in the way it rolled it out. At the time, Trump argued that the termination of the program would afford Congress the opportunity to pass lasting legislation on the matter.

He has since tried to leverage the program several times as a negotiating tool with Congress, unsuccessfully offering to extend DACA protections in exchange for funding his long-promised border wall. Trump’s efforts to end DACA have been thwarted over the past several years by a series of federal court decisions that were eventually appealed to the Supreme Court.

DACA does not grant its recipients permanent legal status, but it does provide temporary protection against deportation and work permits that must be renewed every two years. It allows these undocumented immigrants to get drivers’ licenses in some states, work legally and prosper economically. Rescinding it would leave immigrants vulnerable to deportation, possibly separating them from their families and children.

In recent months, advocacy groups have drawn attention to the numerous contributions DACA recipients have made in the country, particularly within the last few months amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly 29,000 immigrant DACA recipients currently work in the health care industry, many of them as nurses, lab technicians or home health aides, according to the left-leaning Center for American Progress. 

This report has been clarified to reflect past positions by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on bills to address the DACA program and undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

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