Washington • Several Utah elected officials lauded the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn President Donald Trump’s effort to repeal a program aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children.
Now, Beehive State leaders agree, it’s time for Congress to enact a permanent fix.
The high court’s 5-4 ruling, penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, said the Trump administration did not follow the legal procedures to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program and didn’t properly consider how doing so would affect the 650,000 people affected.
The case has wide implications beyond adding some comfort for DACA recipients, known as “Dreamers,” with the decision likely to play into efforts to address the U.S. immigration system. It also elevates the debate over immigration policies in an election year.
“I’m glad to see [Supreme Court] give some certainty to DACA, but the fact they needed to do this is a black eye for Congress,” Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said in a statement. “We had our chance to help Dreamers first & we let them down. Congress must work together to provide a permanent solution for Dreamers & other critical immigration issues.”
Rep. Ben McAdams, a Utah Democrat who says his district includes more than 7,000 DACA recipients, said the high court ruling was “important but also a temporary reprieve.”
“Now it is up to Congress to work together and pass the reforms to our broken immigration system that will give Dreamers the certainty they deserve and will strengthen families, communities and our economy,” McAdams said.
“The individuals known as Dreamers are our classmates, our coworkers, our neighbors and members of our congregations,” the congressman added. “Brought here as young children, this is the only home most of them have ever known. They are working, serving in the military, enrolled in college, and are giving back to the community. The Supreme Court ruling today is welcome news that for now, they will be able to continue their lives.”
McAdams was the lone Utahn last year to support the American Dream and Promise Act that prohibited deporting people enrolled in the DACA program. The Senate didn’t pass the measure.
Gov. Gary Herbert’s office praised “well-intended efforts” to protect young people who were raised as “part of our communities from the fear of deportation” but that Congress needs to step in and solve the issue. The office referenced the Utah Compact, a document backed by business, civic and religious leaders that emphasized humane treatment of immigrants, keeping families together and focusing deportation on serious criminals.
“Today’s stop-gap decision, however, only highlights why this issue should not be left to changing administrative orders and litigation,” Herbert’s office said in a statement. “Congress needs to move quickly to enact humane solutions for our broken immigration system.”
Trump, whose administration has faced a tough week from Supreme Court rulings, responded to the court's decision by urging Americans to reelect him and playing to gun rights supporters.
“These 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,” Trump tweeted. “We need more Justices or we will lose our 2nd. Amendment & everything else. Vote Trump 2020!”
The president added, “Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?”
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall heralded the decision but also noted that it doesn’t replace needed legislation to affirm protections for ‘Dreamers.'
“We must not lose sight that the fight continues,” she said in a statement. “I urge the Trump administration to leave DACA in place, and I urge our representatives in Congress to take action on legislation that guarantees a place in this country for Dreamers.”
Former Sen. Orrin Hatch — who had cosponsored legislation starting in 2001 to protect immigrants brought to the country as children, legislation that has never passed Congress — said Thursday’s decision only “underscores” the need for a long-term fix.
“Many of these men and women have been on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19 and have contributed to our economy in invaluable ways,” Hatch said in a statement released by his foundation. “They have helped build the America we know today and deserve a seat at the table. Their fate should not have to be relitigated every few years. It is the role of Congress — not the courts or the administration — to resolve this issue. That’s why I call on my former colleagues to move quickly on bipartisan legislation that provides legal status for America’s Dreamers. It’s the right thing to do.”
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, who was born in India and had joined a long list of prosecutors in supporting the DACA program in a friend of the court brief, said Thursday that the ruling upholds the protections for 650,000 people in America “whose only crime was that they were young and innocent when their parents came to this country.”
“This ruling also affirms the need for an open and trusting relationship with local law enforcement,” Gill said. “Otherwise, individuals are subjected to violence and exploitation if they are left in the shadows. This is good policy for the safety of all of our communities.”
State Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, welcomed the decision, noting that DACA participants are Americans.
“They have grown up here, they were educated here, and many have served our country in uniform. These are friends and neighbors who have voluntarily come forth in exchange for protection and acknowledgement of their rights,” she said. “The Supreme Court recognized that the Trump Administration failed to demonstrate any sound reason for terminating DACA because there is no sound reason. This is a victory for both Dreamers and all fair-minded Americans who recognize that our nation’s strength is in our diversity.”
Utah’s two Republican senators in Washington had a different takes on the Supreme Court decision — Sen. Mike Lee assailing it for what he said was sidestepping the central issue of the legality of DACA, while Sen. Mitt Romney made no comment about the ruling itself. Both, however, argued it proves that Congress needs to deal with immigration and not the White House.
Lee, a vocal critic of President Barack Obama’s use of the DACA program to circumvent what the senator believes should be a legislative solution, found part of Thursday’s ruling as an affirmation of his point.
Tucked into page 11 of the decision is a point that the majority found the Obama-era program did not just offer passive discretionary judgment on what immigrants should be deported but a decision that involved applications and reviews of who should be protected.
“The Supreme Court held today that President Obama’s DACA program is clearly illegal,” Lee said in a statement. “That should have been the end of the inquiry. If a president can’t undo the illegal acts of his predecessor, that can lead only to ever-expanding executive power.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, didn’t address whether he backed the high court’s ruling but said that it shouldn’t “overshadow” that DACA’s creation was unlawful and Congress’ abdication of its role in making laws.
“We should use this as an opportunity to finally get serious about long-term solutions that include securing our southern border with a physical barrier, mandatory and permanent E-Verify to eliminate one of the key drivers of illegal immigration, and resolving the status of DACA recipients who were brought into the country by their parents,” Romney said.