The U.S. Supreme Court ruling blocking the Trump administration from terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program brought feelings of happiness and relief for undocumented students like Luis. Luis, who has been applying for a U visa — set aside for victims of criminal activity against undocumented immigrants — found out about the decision with his family that morning through a text message from an internship mentor.
The Supreme Court decision was handed down Thursday, after arguments were presented in November last year. Established by the Department of Homeland Security under Barack Obama’s presidential administration, the DACA program stood as an important step to immigration reform by providing undocumented immigrants access to work authorization and government benefits.
Luis, who is eligible to apply for the DACA program, chose initially not to apply because of advice from his attorney. Instead, his family began applying for a U visa during his sophomore year of high school, a visa the attorney said Luis should receive by the end of his first year of college according to a typical timeline. Yet, after his first year of college, Luis had still not received the visa and had no authorization to work in the United States.
“My first year finishing in USC, I applied to be an orientation adviser,” said Luis, who asked that his last name not be used for privacy reasons. “I had already made these plans — like I got the job offer — and then they asked me for my work authorization, and I thought they would accommodate and see if they could put me through other forms of payment. That’s when they kind of told me, ‘Oh, you can’t get it because of your status. I just felt really defeated about that.”
However, when Luis decided to apply for DACA after his unsuccessful attempt to work in an on-campus job freshman year, President Donald Trump had repealed the program. Because of his situation, Luis was grateful to hear the results of the Supreme Court’s decision.
“At first, I was just very anxious, with the uncertainty and the Supreme Court delaying [the decision],” said Luis, a rising junior majoring in political science, who migrated to Thousand Oaks at the age of 6 from Yucatan, Mexico. “I was very hesitant and was not really positive about the situation, seeing that there is a conservative majority within the Supreme Court, so I got excited to hear about it. I think it’s just going to be opening up new opportunities for me and other people.”
Along with attempts to limit environmental regulations and to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration decided to discontinue DACA in September 2017 when acting secretary for the Department of Homeland Security Elaine C. Duke sought to end the program, claiming it was unlawfully implemented by the past administration.
Despite the announcement, challenges arose in the lower courts questioning the legality of the termination and arguing that ending DACA would impact those who are protected by the program with the removal of federal relief. In November 2018, a panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed DACA to continue under the premise that the program’s fate would be determined under the Supreme Court. Following the circuit court decision, DHS appealed the decision to the high court.
The final outcome in the case Thursday prevented the termination of DACA under the Administrative Procedure Act. On the day of the decision announcement, President Carol Folt penned a tweet in solidarity with DACA students.
However, Jean Reisz, co-director of the Gould School of Law Immigration Clinic, referred to the result of the Supreme Court as a “procedural decision” and said the government will still be able to declare the DACA program illegitimate with reasonable justification.
“I think that one of the important things to do is to not over-celebrate today’s decision because for a lot of the DACAmented community, they are still in this temporary status, which in itself can create a lot of anxiety,” Reisz said in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “I think that [with] this decision coming at this time, we should really try and harness the momentum.”
In anticipation of the decision, the immigration clinic released an announcement for a live Zoom webinar June 7 on their social media feeds. The event analyzed the outcome and disseminated information on the available campus resources for students, faculty and staff, including free consultations with legal experts and access to support systems, such as the Office of Religious Life and Student Health Center, which connect undocumented students with resources such as financial aid, housing, counseling and legal support.
The webinar, co-sponsored by the Latinx/Chicanx Center for Advocacy and Student Affairs, Improving Dreams, Equality, Access, and Success at USC and the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, featured Reisz and other members from the clinic, including staff attorney Jennifer Macias and clinic co-director Niels Frenzen. Although the panelists in the webinar seemed momentarily satisfied with the decision, they warned their audience against seeing it as a guaranteed protection for DREAMers.
“We know that this decision does not provide any security for DACA recipients,” said Macias during the webinar. “But we need comprehensive immigration reform, rather than this stopgap measure that prevents the deportation of DREAMers.”
For Selene Castillo, a rising sophomore from Guanajuato, Mexico majoring in Spanish and international relations, being undocumented has been a taboo topic since her high school years in Coachella Valley.
“From high school, a lot of kids don’t talk about [being undocumented],” she said. “There’s no club for DACA students, there’s no support or community for us. And now that I think about it, it’s really sad because a majority of the school population, would benefit from [talking about it].”
In order to qualify for DACA, those who apply must meet certain requirements, including being 15 years of age with no record of felony charges. Upon meeting the age requirement, Castillo applied to DACA and later learned of the various resources including college financial assistance available to her that other undocumented students unable to qualify for DACA would not have access to.
“Going to USC, it was a burden to apply to financial help being a DACA student,” Castillo said. “And then I know students that were undocumented with absolutely no protection and it’s even harder for them, and it’s like, they’re trying to make a living, they’re trying to educate themselves. They’re trying to become a good asset to this community, and they just don’t have the tools.”
While attending a high school class in September 2017, one of Castillo’s instructors pulled her out of class, informing her of the Trump administration’s decision to phase out DACA, a decision that would limit undocumented students from applying. Although the news came as a shock to her and many of her peers, Castillo considered herself lucky since she had applied to DACA before the discontinuation.
Even with Thursday’s decision being the best-case scenario for DACA recipients, webinar panelist Macias stressed that new applicants may not be able to apply to DACA since the DHS has not issued any information regarding if non-DACA applicants will still be able to apply.
“We currently do not know whether there will be new applications for DACA accepted because as of right now, the DACA memorandum can be rescinded again — the only thing that the Trump administration has to do is give valid reasons as to why it’s rescinding DACA,” Macias said.
Even with the future of DACA uncertain, Castillo feels content about the decision from the court and remains optimistic for future immigration reform.
“A lot of it is still uncertain as to how this is going to actually play out,” she said. “But definitely there’s hope. There’s hope, and I think that’s the best feeling at the moment.”
However, Luis, who was also pleased with the decision, said he recognized the need for increased governmental action for undocumented people beyond the Supreme Court’s decision — including a pathway for citizenship and the opportunities for loans and property ownership.
“DACA was never meant to be a long-term solution … With DACA, you just get authorization to work in the U.S., but you don’t get access to other things,” Luis said. “Although they might not come from typical American roots where you’re born here, they grew up here, were immersed in the culture, and this is what they know as home.”
Karen Mendoza, president of IDEAS at USC, an organization advocating for and bringing awareness to issues affecting undocumented students, said that the decision is not a final solution and highlights additional work that needs to be done to support DACA students.
“It’s still only a Band-Aid to the broader issue,” Mendoza said. “A lot of student organizations on campus are echoing the same message, which is that Congress needs to act, and they need to act now. DACA remains a temporary fix to a long-standing issue.”
Originally, IDEAS predicted the decision would result in DACA’s termination and prepared to support students in need after the decision’s announcement. They worked with the Gould Immigration Clinic and senior director of Student Equity and Inclusion Programs Naddia Palacios to give students virtual support through a Zoom session.
“For our program, we were going to have a Zoom centered around helping our students cope with the anxiety and devastation that would come with the termination of DACA, so our whole entire program was different,” Mendoza said. “Right after the decision on Thursday, we were going to have meetings all night and on Friday, we were going to offer our students support, but that didn’t happen, so it was a more calm and relieving Thursday.”
Moving forward, IDEAS looks to continue advocating for immigration reform on campus by working with administrators to improve awareness of issues undocumented students face, as well as pushing for an on-campus resource center for undocumented students.
“There are a lot of things on campus that undocumented Trojans struggle with,” Mendoza said. “We don’t have access to a lot of things, like teachers who are informed of our status, and sometimes, we need extra support that a lot of people don’t need if they’re citizens, so we were really pushing for that. The next step is to let our allies know that although DACA was saved, DREAMers are not entirely satisfied. We will not stop fighting until we have a clean pathway to citizenship … We are far from immigration reform, but this win will help keep us motivated to continue.”