It isn’t only the 700,000 American Dreamers who have been given a reprieve by the Supreme Court of the United States. It is the soul of our nation.
Our system, most specifically members of Congress, have been handed an opportunity to finally get this right. All of us should insist that they do just that, and with all deliberate speed.
Dreamers, by the policy definition of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, are people who were brought illegally to the United States from another nation, mostly in Central and South America, when they were children.
They are, by definition, innocent bystanders in our nation’s bitter and often cruel immigration policy disputes. In general, they are as American as any of us, in many cases speaking only English, fully steeped in American culture. They are students at, or graduates of, our schools and universities, members or veterans of our armed forces, and have no memory of or connections with the land of their birth.
The sitting president has, at times, exhibited sympathy for the plight of the Dreamers and, at other times, shown brutal disdain for their hopes and humanity. His Department of Homeland Security issued a policy order aimed overturning DACA and clearing the way for deporting hundreds of thousands of them to nations where they would be lost and alone.
In its 5-4 ruling Thursday, the court made a point of saying that it was offering no opinion on whether DACA or its reversal was the better policy. The opinion from Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by the four members of the court’s liberal wing, was based on the letter of a law requiring such decisions to hew to a set of procedural requirements which, the chief found, the administration failed to do.
The administration did not even consider the fact that many thousands of people living in the United States had made serious life plans -- going to college, launching businesses, starting families -- based on the promise of DACA. Many of them are the “essential workers” who have powered us through the COVID-19 pandemic, and suffered a disproportionate share of its damage.
Taking away that lifeboat without at least going through the required steps made the removal of DACA, in lawyer-speak, “arbitrary and capricious,” and therefore void.
The bad news is that the court has provided the administration with a road map to cancel DACA again, and this time make it stick, by laying out the whys and wherefores of its move in a way that will be no less cruel but much better able to stand up to judicial review.
Unless Congress moves quickly to pass a bill making DACA, or policy very much like it, not just an executive pronouncement but the law of the land. Such a bill passed the House of Representatives on a vote of 237-187, but has yet to be taken up by the Senate.
Rep. Ben McAdams, the lone Democrat in the Utah delegation, rightly voted for that measure. Rep. John Curtis joined the two other Republican House members from Utah in opposing it, yet he spoke Thursday of an opportunity to finally resolve the issue.
Utah’s senators, Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, have offered little that is hopeful on the matter. Romney has yet to walk back any of his remarks about being more of an immigration hard-liner even than the president. And Lee, as is his wont, is droning on about Obama’s executive overreach.
But offering DACA protection, and adding a legal path to citizenship, is an idea supported by the public, by long-time champions of immigration reform such as Utah’s former Sen. Orrin Hatch, as well as politicians at all levels and of all ideological stripes and business interests that include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and top management at Apple and Microsoft.
It could be said that the Supreme Court punted on this issue, kicking it back to the democratic process where it belongs. Good.
Now, let us show the wisdom and humanity that democracy is capable of, and welcome the Dreamers, once and for all time.