This piece first appeared in Newsweek on 1/30/2020
You know that nightmare where you see an accident about to happen in slow motion, but no matter how loudly you scream, you can’t stop it? That is how it feels watching our three branches of government refuse to take the wheel and protect the lives of the 700,000 Dreamers who are shielded from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. President Donald Trump set us on this disaster course, forcing the Supreme Court into the driver’s seat. Will the justices put their foot on the brake to stop the wreck?
DACA has been wildly successful for eight years, allowing these Dreamers—undocumented young people who came to the country as children—to live, work and contribute to the country they call home. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments last November about the Trump administration’s repeal of DACA. Due to injunctions by multiple lower courts, DACA renewals remain in place for now. A decision from the Supreme Court could come as early as next month.
If DACA is terminated, hundreds of thousands of young people will be forced out of their jobs and put at grave risk of deportation to countries most of them don’t remember. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court doesn’t seem to understand the devastation its decision may set in motion.
During oral arguments, Chief Justice John Roberts said the Obama and Trump administrations said they would not deport Dreamers. “The whole thing was about work authorization and these other benefits,” he said. “Both administrations have said they’re not going to deport people.”
There should be no illusions about the Trump administration’s enforcement intentions when it comes to DACA recipients. Don’t take my word for it; take theirs.
Just this past week, ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence stated that the agency is preparing for deportations. “Those individuals may have DACA, but that doesn’t prevent us from going through the removal process,” he said. “If they get ordered removed, and DACA is done away with by the Supreme Court, we can actually effectuate those removal orders.”
ICE’s alarming actions send the same clear message. The agency admits it is reopening previously closed removal cases of DACA recipients. This could allow ICE to start detaining and deporting people as quickly as possible if the Supreme Court gives it the green light. Already, we’re seeing an uptick in reports of Dreamers being detained, including in Connecticut, Arkansas and California. This isn’t a hypothetical; this is now.
Trump has stated frequently that he expects the court to decide in his favor and that he will use the ruling to force an immigration deal in Congress. His intention is to use the deportation of Dreamers as leverage to pressure Congress to codify every other horrific immigration policy on his wish list. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats will never agree to that devil’s bargain.
Should the court sign off on the president’s scheme, more than 6,000 DACA recipients would lose their protections every single week for the next two years. That means every week, DACA recipient mothers will be separated from their U.S. citizen children, and DACA recipient teachers will be ripped away from their kindergarten classrooms. And no one knows how ICE will use the personal information previously obtained from Dreamers during the DACA application process, including their addresses and family’s personal information.
The real-life impacts of the decision before the Supreme Court could not be more serious, and Albence’s remarks last week should clear up any confusion about the Trump administration’s intentions. It’s time to be honest with ourselves: This administration ended DACA, killed multiple bipartisan deals to resolve the issue in Congress and is currently detaining Dreamers. It will not have a change of heart.
Sadly, it is also hard to trust Congress to be a problem solver during an election year, especially on an issue it has failed to effectively address for the past 19 years.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court is in the driver’s seat—with 700,000 young people, their children, co-workers and communities in the car. If the justices take a moment to reflect on the human consequences of their decision, they can hit the brakes before it’s too late.
Alida Garcia is an attorney and vice president of advocacy at FWD.us, a bipartisan organization that advocates for commonsense immigration reform.