US colleges hail momentous Supreme Court ruling on DACA

United States colleges have welcomed the momentous US Supreme Court ruling on Thursday 18 June that the Trump administration’s decision to halt the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA programme was not legal, describing it as “arbitrary and capricious”.

The ruling halts the immediate ending of the programme and will prevent up to 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came into the country as children from being deported. An estimated 450,000 undocumented immigrants are college students and about half of those are eligible for the DACA programme.

President Donald Trump reacted with fury to Thursday’s decision via Twitter, saying the “horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives”.

The DACA programme was announced by President Barack Obama’s administration in 2012, granting undocumented individuals who arrived in the United States as children a two-year work permit and temporary permission to stay in the country.

The conditions included that they had entered the US while under the age of 16, had lived continuously in the US since June 2007 and had graduated from or were enrolled at high school.

However, Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election with a pledge to tackle illegal immigration and in 2017 his administration rescinded DACA, citing “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch”. The administration announced that the programme would be phased out for current recipients and no new requests would be granted. By this point, over two million requests had been accepted.

Responding to the Supreme Court decision, Obama tweeted: “Eight years ago this week, we protected young people who were raised as part of our American family from deportation. Today, I’m happy for them, their families, and all of us.”

The ruling on Thursday sends the issue back to the Department of Homeland Security, but it is reported that there will not be enough time to take it up again before the presidential election in November.

Reacting to the ruling, American Council on Education (ACE) President Ted Mitchell said: “We are extremely gratified that the US Supreme Court has acted decisively to keep in place the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, and in doing so protected DACA recipients, those outstanding young individuals who contribute so much to our country.”

Congress ‘must act’

But he demanded that in the wake of this momentous and welcome ruling, Congress “must finally act to give permanent legislative protection to Dreamers. For far too long, lawmakers used the pending Supreme Court decision as an excuse for inaction.”

He was referring to the fact that last year the House of Representatives passed the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, which would provide ‘Dreamers’ (as defined in the bill) with a path towards permanent resident status and citizenship. But it has yet to be considered by the Senate.

ACE, along with 1,400 civil rights organisations, university presidents, medical associations, national security leaders, cities and counties, and others including elected officials from both political parties, had filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court last year in support of DACA.

ACE argued to the court that prior to DACA, colleges and universities were effectively unable to enrol hundreds of thousands of the most deserving and meritorious students in the United States.

The ‘Dreamers’ – undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, through no fault of their own, who attended high school or served in the military and had amassed no serious criminal record – faced a battery of severe impediments to attending or completing college or graduate school, ACE said.

Unable to receive federal loans, work legally or qualify for most state tuition benefits, Dreamers were foreclosed from nearly every avenue for financing their education.

Living in the shadows

“Forced to live in the shadows, they often had to bear the serious emotional strains and anxiety of their undocumented status alone,” ACE said.

ACE argued that although DACA had not removed all of these barriers, it “made it newly possible for countless Dreamers to get a post-secondary education and unlock the potential such an education affords”.

Dreamers could now qualify for many work-study programmes, take on high-quality jobs, receive a range of state tuition benefits, and otherwise find the means to pay for tuition. They could drive to work, school and internships. When they graduated, they could qualify for occupational licences and work legally in high-quality sectors.

“In short, while policy-makers and politicians remain unwilling or unable to address their predicament legislatively, DACA has offered Dreamers cautious hope that they can live the American Dream and become part of this country’s ever-evolving story of innovators, inventors, entrepreneurs and leaders.”

Dreamers had succeeded as Rhodes Scholars, scientists and campus leaders; they were sources of inspiration and insight for their peers; and highly productive members of the nation’s economy, contributing over a quarter of a trillion dollars in economic growth, ACE argued.

By contrast, the rescission of DACA would reverse all of these gains. “In an instant, it would send a message of exclusion that would irreparably harm our institutions’ ability to recruit and retain foreign-born students. It would tear at the fabric of our campus communities. Most importantly, it would pull the rug out from under the Dreamers themselves, who have upended their lives – taking out loans, earning degrees, and taking the risk of revealing their undocumented status – in reliance on DACA.”

Mitchell said on Thursday that DACA recipients and other Dreamers, brought to the US as children and now American in every way but their immigration status, had been left “languishing in unacceptable legal and political limbo”.

In an era of partisan acrimony and polarisation, there was widespread and bipartisan support for protecting Dreamers both on Capitol Hill and on Main Street. But for far too long, Dreamers had been held political hostage, unable to make long-term decisions about their education, jobs or serving in the military.

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a needed and most welcome development, but it does not offer permanent legal protection. We urge Congress to finally do the right thing and pass legislation that will enable these exceptional individuals to keep contributing their best to America, the only country they have ever called home,” Mitchell said.