Home > News > Are the Dreamers safe now that the Supreme Court ruled? Not exactly. Here’s what’s still up in the air.
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Are the Dreamers safe now that the Supreme Court ruled? Not exactly. Here’s what’s still up in the air.

Their lives are still in flux, depending on where they live and what the courts decide next.

- June 19, 2020

The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the Trump administration had unlawfully tried to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offers limited security to some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s opinion in Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California focused not on whether dismantling DACA was good or bad policy, but rather found that the administration hadn’t used reasoned decision-making as required to change such a significant policy.

But DACA recipients aren’t safe and secure yet. The Supreme Court decision gives them some legal stability and an ability to work. Still, more court decisions are needed before DACA recipients, sometimes called “Dreamers,” know what this means in practical terms. Here’s what we know now.

Who are the DACA recipients?

Let’s start with the basics. The Obama administration created the DACA program in 2012 so that undocumented immigrants who arrived as children before 2007 could be temporarily protected from deportation and could have permits to work. According to the National UnDACAmented Research project at Harvard University, the Pew Research Center and the Center for American Progress:

  • {‘type’: ‘text’, ‘content’: ‘More than 700,000 people have DACA protections nationwide; another 700,000 are eligible to apply.’, ‘_id’: ‘UHNDJ6E5ZBCTNOPMMXU5TKTKZY’, ‘additional_properties’: {‘comments’: [], ‘inline_comments’: []}, ‘block_properties’: {}}
  • {‘type’: ‘text’, ‘content’: ‘To apply, someone must have been younger than 16 on arrival, be enrolled in or have graduated from high school and have no criminal record. If granted, DACA status lasts for two years before recipients must apply for renewal.’, ‘_id’: ‘YD4AQVJQHNHB7FDEUD5G6QLJ7Y’, ‘additional_properties’: {‘comments’: [], ‘inline_comments’: []}, ‘block_properties’: {}}
  • {‘type’: ‘text’, ‘content’: ‘Most DACA recipients are from Mexico, but there are significant numbers from other Latin American countries and Asia. About three-quarters of DACA recipients reside in 20 metropolitan areas in the United States.’, ‘_id’: ‘BOTPOWNTBJEFXOMFDNHIVVTFVM’, ‘additional_properties’: {‘comments’: [{‘start’: 123, ‘end’: 163, ‘text’: ‘my add because Pew says 3/4 in 20 metro areas and CAP says DACA in 86 metro areas.’, ’email’: ‘Melissa.Ngo@washpost.com’, ‘user’: ‘Melissa Ngo’, ‘date’: ‘2020-06-19T13:06:28.310Z’, ‘replies’: [{‘text’: ‘Graff okayed’, ’email’: ‘Melissa.Ngo@washpost.com’, ‘user’: ‘Melissa Ngo’, ‘date’: ‘2020-06-19T14:57:33.249Z’}]}], ‘inline_comments’: [{‘pos’: 118, ‘comment’: ‘They’}]}, ‘block_properties’: {}}
  • {‘type’: ‘text’, ‘content’: ‘Two-thirds of DACA recipients are age 25 or younger; they arrived in the United States at age 7, on average.’, ‘_id’: ‘ZLFFZH7Q6FDX3L5HGGY6M7O2RE’, ‘additional_properties’: {‘comments’: [], ‘inline_comments’: []}, ‘block_properties’: {}}

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How will this decision affect Dreamers immediately?

For now, DACA recipients are again legally protected from deportation for the two years of their term, and they can now apply to renew and file for advance parole. But the decision leaves the door open for the administration to try again to end the program, although commentators say that seems unlikely before the November election. Either way, the Trump administration can choose how to treat those who already have DACA protections.

For example, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services can decide whether to automatically extend protections for those whose terms are expiring, and it can decide how quickly to adjudicate pending renewal applications. It will need to decide whether to accept new applications from those who are eligible but did not previously apply. The agency’s willingness to work on applications and renewals will be important, as it is strapped for resources. Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement can be more or less aggressive in shielding Dreamers from deportation.

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How will the decision affect the economy?

DACA recipients are eligible for work permits — but they have to apply for those permits separately, under a regulation that was enacted in the 1980s. That’s part of why the Supreme Court demanded a higher degree of care and consideration before DHS could shut down the program. DACA workers earned $23.4 billion in 2017 before the Trump administration paused the program. They work primarily in health care, education, construction and food service.

According to a Center for American Progress report, an amicus brief from the Association of American Medical Colleges, and a letter sent from immigration attorneys to the Supreme Court after the novel coronavirus pandemic hit, more than 200,000 are essential workers and 27,000 work in health care. In total, DACA recipients contribute $5.6 billion in federal taxes and $3.1 billion in state and local taxes, according to the Center for American Progress. These funds support Social Security and Medicare, and they fund schools and other local services. DACA recipients pay $567 million on mortgages and $2.3 billion in rent, the center found.

Experts disagree on whether DACA pushed U.S. citizens out of jobs or lowered their wages, but a blue ribbon committee from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded that immigrants’ salaries have a small effect on wages and their employment does not displace American workers.

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What else will affect Dreamers’ financial lives?

State and local governments, businesses, and schools will further shape DACA recipients’ lives, on such issues as whether Dreamers can have driver’s licenses; will be shielded by sanctuary policies that limit cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement; be admitted to public universities and, if so, whether they pay in-state tuition; and whether they can have access to health care, other than emergency rooms. DACA recipients are not eligible for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, but states can offer their own health insurance or can set up community-based health clinics as California has done.

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Thursday’s ruling isn’t the only one affecting DACA recipients’ finances. In a recent settlement in the class-action lawsuits Perez v. Wells Fargo, O&G and MALDEF and Pena v. Wells Fargo, courts decided that banks and lenders can no longer discriminate against DACA recipients and other noncitizens when they apply for student loans, credit cards, home mortgages or small-business loans.

Also this week, a California federal district court enjoined the U.S. Department of Education from enforcing a recently issued guidance that would bar colleges and universities from granting Cares Act relief funds to DACA recipients and other noncitizens. However, the Education Department has already proposed a rule that would accomplish the same thing; stopping that rule would require a separate lawsuit.

In other words, in many ways DACA recipients remain in limbo, their lives shaped by a patchwork of laws, regulations, agencies and court decisions that are often in flux. For anything more permanent, Congress would have to change immigration laws — which it has not done, despite bipartisan public opinion supporting a “Dream Act” that would allow DACA recipients to become citizens.

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Ming Hsu Chen (@minghsuchen) is a professor of law and political science at the University of Colorado at Boulder, director of the Immigration and Citizenship Law Program and author of forthcoming book “Pursuing Citizenship in the Enforcement Era” (Stanford University Press, August 2020).