WASHINGTON, D.C — The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in cases that could decide the future of DACA recipients on Tuesday.
Three cases, Trump v. NAACP, McAleenan v. Vidal and the Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California, have been consolidated into one, where the Supreme Court justices are asked to consider whether the Department of Homeland Security decision to wind down the DACA policy can be reviewed by the courts, and whether or not the decision to end DACA was lawful. Among the plaintiffs included in the lawsuit is the University of California system, Santa Clara County and the city of San Jose.
As the battle is fought in Washington, D.C., DACA recipients in San Jose, such as Mario Lopez, are anxiously awaiting the decision that could determine their fate.
Lopez has lived in the U.S. since he was five years old. Lopez, 32, says he applied for and received DACA status in 2013 and in doing so he was able to get a driver’s license, open a credit line and purchase his first car. He was also able to get a job and currently works for Silicon Valley at Home Action Fund.
He likened DACA to having a life vest.
“Not having it would be allowing us to potentially drown,” he said.
Lopez says he’s anxious about the coming week’s case because he doesn’t know which way the Supreme Court is going to vote.
If DACA is rescinded he says it will be a rallying cry to ensure that the 2020 election brings in a president and congress members who are willing to address the needs of the immigrant community.
Back in 2017, San Jose and Santa Clara County sued President Donald Trump for rescinding DACA. In the complaint, the county said 38 percent of its residents are foreign born, adding that “Santa Clara County has the highest percentage of foreign-born residents of all counties in California.”
The storied history of this policy began on June 15, 2012, with the president of the UC system, Janet Napolitano, who served under President Barack Obama as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. In a memo announcing the program, Napolitano said this order gave immigration authorities the opportunity to save resources on “low priority cases” to focus on others, adding that the nation’s immigration laws were not designed to “remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language.”
Opponents question the constitutionality of Obama’s executive order. On September 5, 2017, the Trump administration announced plans to rescind the DACA program, putting the onus on Congress to act.
“The compassionate thing is to end the lawlessness, enforce our laws, and, if Congress chooses to make changes to those laws, to do so through the process set forth by our Founders in a way that advances the interest of the nation,” said Jeff Sessions, then Attorney General during his remarks announcing the end of DACA.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has not accepted new applications since that day, but it continues to accept renewal applications.
The program protected undocumented immigrants for two years if they could prove, among other things, that they’d been brought to the U.S. as children and had been in the country since 2007. Not all who were eligible applied. So when Trump rescinded the program, Maricela Gutierrez, executive director of the San Jose-based immigrant rights group SIREN, said people were devastated.
“It’s now only open to renewal,” she said in a recent interview. “And it has really eliminated a large population that would have an opportunity for protection and work permits and a driver’s license.”
Gutierrez says SIREN has helped approximately 5,000 immigrants in California apply for DACA, the majority of those living in Santa Clara County. But activists and beneficiaries admit DACA was not a perfect solution. On a call moderated by the Center for American Progress, Yemichi Cambrón, a DACA recipient in Atlanta, Georgia, told reporters she’s been preparing for the worst.
“DACA has been important but it was a solution like a bandaid for a problem that needs surgery,” she said.
On Friday, San José Spotlight spoke to Maria Perales Sánchez, one of the plaintiffs in the case brought by Princeton University that is being argued in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Sánchez was brought to the U.S. from Mexico when she was eight years old. Her mother, an activist in practice, brought the same spirit that had fought to bring electricity and plumbing to their small town in Guanajuato to their new home in the United States. She encouraged other migrants and pushed them to learn English. Sánchez says she got her activist spirit from her mother, who died a few years ago from breast cancer.
Sánchez was studying at Princeton University when the Trump administration announced they’d rescind DACA. The university reached out to undocumented students and presented the idea of filing a lawsuit to challenge the administration.
She was the only DACA recipient who agreed to join the lawsuit.
“Si nos echan pa’tras ya que, pero tenemos que seguir luchando,” her father told her in Spanish.
That means: “If they send us back, so what, we have to keep fighting.”
His response and her family’s continual support have helped Sánchez prepare for the legal battle.
“This isn’t the end regardless,” she said. “Whether we win DACA back or it doesn’t gets reinstated, we’re going to keep fighting because there’s still over 10 million folks who are not protected under DACA who don’t have any kind of status. This fight is for them, too.”
Princeton University states its institution would suffer from losing the contributions of DACA recipients who attend and work there. In the UC’s court filing, it said there are approximately 4,000 undocumented students in the UC system, “a substantial number of whom are DACA recipients. Many of its staff members are also DACA recipients.“ Santa Clara County and the city of San Jose joined the UC lawsuit, arguing that rescinding DACA was an arbitrary decision that violated immigrants’ right to due process.
According to USCIS, approximately 825,000 undocumented people have benefited from DACA. The Center for American Progress, a liberal group, conducted a survey on 1,105 DACA recipients across the country and found that 60 percent of them reported buying their first car after receiving DACA. Another 14 percent reported buying their first home. The majority said they feared a member of their family could be deported.
Claudia Flores, a former San Jose resident, is an immigration campaign manager at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
“We’re confident that the Supreme Court will align with decisions given by three federal judges around the country that have decided that the ending of DACA was not consistent with the law,” she said in a recent call.
Contact Elizabeth Mendez at [email protected] or follow @izziemae on Twitter.
Reporter Carina Woudenberg contributed to this report.