Fight for DACA and Dreamers Continues After Supreme Court Decision

There were an estimated 900,000 young Americans without authorized immigration status in 2012. Today there are over 1.3 million. These individuals were brought here as children, sometimes just days old, and America is their only home. Undocumented persons do not have Social Security numbers. They often cannot obtain drivers licenses. They can’t attend college in Mississippi.


Mississippi is home to roughly 3,000 of these young Americans. These are folks like a young adult in Northeast Mississippi, who worried how she could obtain a license to drive nearly 30 miles every day for work. A soon-to-be mother in Laurel second-guessed her family’s decision to have a child with the looming threat of removal and family separation. This has been a long struggle and an entire generation of Mississippians have seen hope rise and crash out over the years. Dreamers continue to be pawns in a game in which they do not have equal voice and where their futures hinge on the political horse trading in Washington. Nevertheless, they persist to hold out hope to join us in getting their shot at the American Dream.


Congress tried to find a bipartisan means to include our country’s undocumented youth in the American Dream as early as 2001 in the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act). In 2010, the House passed a version of the bill, but it ultimately died in the Senate without the necessary 60 votes. President Obama and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Nepalitano developed a strategy relying on executive action. Under the Executive Memorandum created in June 2012, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Secretary Nepalitano granted work authorization and relief from deportation to persons who were brought to the USA prior to their 16th birthday, born after June 15, 1981, and who either graduated from high school or were enrolled in an educational program. Over a half of a million people signed up during the first year, with roughly 700,000 total by 2018.


DACA has been fought on multiple fronts dealing with various aspects of its existence. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in September 2017 that the administration would no longer accept new DACA applications and cease renewals in March 2018. Federal judges ordered the government to continue accepting renewal applications as this case was pending. Eliminating the program would cost the United States roughly $4 billion in taxes each year, while large-scale deportation of Dreamers would cost the federal government a total of $60 billion dollars.


The Supreme Court ruled on June 18, 2020 that the manner in which the Trump administration attempted to cancel and wind down the DACA program violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The Court held in a 5-4 decision that President Trump’s termination of the program was “arbitrary and capricious,” relying in large part on the starkly bare-bones nature of the memorandum terminating DACA.


Chief Justice Roberts shined a light on the need for protections against an aggressive government:

Justice Holmes famously wrote that ‘[m]en must turn square corners when they deal with the Government.’ But it is also true, particularly when so much is at stake, that ‘the Government should turn square corners in dealing with the people.’ The basic rule here is clear: An agency must defend its actions based on the reasons it gave when it acted. This is not the case for cutting corners to allow DHS to rely upon reasons absent from its original decision.

The Court, under the leadership of the Chief Justice, stood up against blurring procedural rights of those most vulnerable in America; individuals without a democratic voice. The Court affirmed that we cannot allow the executive branch to take action now and search for a justification later.


The decision also stipulated there is no doubt that DHS can and likely will find a way to legally terminate DACA. The United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a statement on June 19 decrying the Court’s decision and vowing to terminate DACA and doubled down on the wholly fabricated and xenophobic rhetoric that DACA permits immigrant Americans to take the jobs of citizen Americans, despite national unemployment consistently decreasing in the years since President Obama implemented DACA. The government under the current administration has made clear it will not stop until it successfully rescinds DACA. This is the wrong priority and it will harm Mississippians.


The Mississippi Center for Justice is working against the clock to renew as many current and former DACA recipients for a fresh 2-year period. We have created a statewide initiative to locate current and past DACA recipients and connect them with pro bono attorneys who will process their DACA renewal applications. We are conducting virtual townhalls with community members who have questions about DACA and the future of young undocumented Mississippians. Finally, we are identifying young people, those who missed their shot at DACA because they were too young before the current administration ended the program, and working with them to assemble the necessary documents to be ready to apply if and when the scales of justice tip again in our favor to open the door for new DACA applications.


This decision ensures that hundreds of thousands of young Americans can continue working, driving, learning, and starting families without fear of disruption in the short-term. At the same time, the constant fear of deportation and a future without access to our state’s system of higher education continues to plague nearly 2,000 undocumented Mississippians.


For one Dreamer growing up in Starkville, just blocks from Mississippi State University, DACA is more than a moment’s opportunity. “In my perspective, I believe DACA will change millions of lives and open countless doors. Having the opportunity to have it will be life changing and I’ll be able to do more things like work, have a license, college and many more opportunities. DACA would open an immense amount of opportunity doors. DACA would give my life a 180-degree turn.”