The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Thursday to keep a federal program in place brought relief to thousands of immigrants living in Maryland without permanent legal status.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program gives some 700,000 “Dreamers” the right to stay and work in this country. Many of them are young working professionals or students whose families brought them to the United States as children without legal authorization.
The 5-4 ruling issued by Chief Justice Roberts says that the administration’s decision to end DACA in 2017 was done in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner and therefore violated the law.
The decision will allow about 8,000 young immigrants in Maryland, who had been living with uncertainty about their status in the midst of a global pandemic, to renew their DACA applications and work permits.
Baltimore resident María Perales Sanchez, one of the plaintiffs in the series of consolidated lawsuits before the Supreme Court, woke up nervous Thursday, knowing a decision could come. She said she was less hopeful for a positive outcome.
The DACA participant was working out of her childhood bedroom at her parent’s home in Houston when she got the text from her boss.
“I was so shocked. I was at a loss for words,” Sanchez said.
In 2017, while a student at Princeton University, Sanchez joined the university in filing a lawsuit in federal court against the Trump administration for ending the program. Lower courts blocked the plan, and the case wound all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
When Sanchez got the news Thursday, she immediately sent a message to her family’s group chat. Her sisters called her in tears. As soon as she got off the phone she ran to her other siblings’ room and woke them up with shouts of joy. Four of her siblings are also DACA recipients.
“For the time being, it does bring some sense of peace that I think is necessary right now with everything going on with COVID,” Sanchez said. “I’m just sad that we ever had to go through this.”
Jonathan Rodas, a 25-year-old nursing student and operating room assistant at a Towson hospital, said the decision will allow him to continue his education.
“This means hope,” Rodas said. “This means that I can still have a future in the United States and that I can continue to fight and not be in fear.”
Another DACA recipient, Missael Garcia, 30, said the outcome will allow him to continue working as a teaching assistant for English language learners at Lakeland Elementary/Middle school, where he’s mentored students for two years.
“It’s a light in between all the darkness around this,” Garcia said. “I believe the decision has made us a lot stronger as a community. It gives me hope that one day I can become a U.S. citizen. It’s a great feeling.”
President Donald Trump called the decision “highly political,” tweeting that it “gives the President of the United States far more power than EVER anticipated. Nevertheless, I will only act in the best interests of the United States of America!”
From a legal standpoint, experts say the justices’ decision is particularly significant in the context of the Trump administration’s continued attempts at reducing immigration, a major focus of his presidency.
During oral arguments in November, the U.S. Justice Department argued the government was within its right to end DACA because it was meant to be a “temporary stopgap measure” and the policy itself violated federal immigration law. The challengers argued that the government failed to provide a legally sound explanation for abruptly ending a government program that was implemented and supported for five years.
In the court’s decision Thursday, Roberts wrote that the government failed to provide a reasoned explanation for ending the program and did not consider the implications of its decision.
The justices did not focus on the DACA program itself, said Elizabeth Keyes, an associate professor of law at the University of Baltimore. Instead what they’re saying is when the administration decides to create or undo a policy, it has to do so with some degree of thoughtfulness.
“It signals loud and clear to the administration that they can’t just issue these ramshackle rules and decisions without going through the proper level of process,” Keyes said.
Keyes said the administration could try again to end the program, though it’s unlikely to happen before November’s election. It could be revisited if Trump is elected to a second term.
In a statement Thursday, Maryland’s Democratic U.S. senators, Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, who in April sent a letter urging Trump to automatically extend work authorizations for DACA recipients and other immigrants, said the decision was a crucial victory and it was now the responsibility of Congress to act and take permanent action.
CASA, an advocacy group for Latino and immigrant people in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, said this is a huge win, not just for those with DACA, but for immigrants in general.
“This is bigger than even just this DACA decision. This is fundamentally affirming the place of immigrants within our country, our society and our community,” said Nicholas Katz, legal program manager at CASA who helps members through the application process.
While many were celebrating the announcement of the decision, they also were preparing for what’s to come.
“This is just a temporary thing. What we want is something permanent,” Rodas said. “The fight is not over. The fight is just getting started.”