DACA Will Continue to Protect More Than 20,000 Georgians

Key Takeaways:

  • The Supreme Court ruled against ending the DACA program, which provides temporary relief from deportation to undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.
  • By keeping the program intact, DACA recipients will continue to benefit from resources that aid in achieving upward mobility including work authorizations and driver’s licenses.
  • The Court’s decision is not a permanent fix, and it is vital for lawmakers to pass legislation that offers undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will continue to protect thousands of Georgia immigrants, as the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) announced their decision in the case of Department of Homeland Security et al. v. Regents of the University of California et al. After an almost three-year court battle, young undocumented immigrants around the country and in Georgia can celebrate this narrow victory knowing that for now their future remains in the United States.

Established by executive order in 2012, the DACA program granted some undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children temporary relief from deportation. DACA now protects approximately 20,810 individuals who have made a home and built a life in Georgia, contributing to our communities as neighbors, business owners and even religious leaders.

Overview of the Litigation Process

The Trump Administration announced a plan to end DACA in September 2017, causing the fate of thousands of young Georgians to enter a legal limbo. After several judicial challenges and lower court injunctions, SCOTUS heard oral arguments on November 12, 2019 to decide whether the administration’s policy change on DACA was reviewable by the Court and, if so, whether the termination of DACA was lawful.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, attorneys representing the interests of DACA recipients filed a motion to allow for the submission of supplemental briefs to discuss the impact of ending DACA during a public health crisis. Presently, our nation relies on an estimated 29,000 healthcare workers protected by the program. SCOTUS granted the motion on April 20, 2020. On June 18, 2020, the Court found that the decision to rescind DACA could be reviewed by the Court and that the way in which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rescinded DACA violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) because it was “arbitrary and capricious.” This means that a decision was taken without enough attention paid to the potential effects of the decision or that an important aspect of the circumstances surrounding the decision was overlooked.

The Court’s decision makes one thing clear: this victory is only temporary. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts lays out a step-by-step process demonstrating how DHS can properly wind-down the DACA program in accordance with the APA. He explains why the agency’s decision was considered arbitrary and capricious and further outlines options they can take to ensure a future rescission, or revocation, is in compliance with the law.

Citing a decision from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which found granting benefits to certain undocumented individuals to be unlawful, the Court stated that DHS could have considered simply changing the DACA program such that it only provided temporary relief from deportation without access to work authorizations and other associated benefits. If DHS had done so, the decision to cancel DACA might not have been struck down. This is primarily because the merit of the DACA program’s main feature, deportation relief, has not been litigated or deemed unlawful.

Additionally, the Court found that DHS failed to take into account DACA recipients’ reliance interests—the fact that they relied on the program and had built their lives around it over the last eight years. While DHS is not required to find that the interest of DACA recipients outweighs other policy considerations, it must at least attempt to balance the competing interests before ending the program entirely. Ultimately, the Trump administration can still end DACA, it just needs to jump through a few more hoops to do so.

Impact of SCOTUS Decision on Georgian DACA Recipients

Upward economic mobility continues

Since its inception in 2012, DACA has proven to be an effective vehicle for economic mobility, an important fact given that 35 percent of those immediately eligible for DACA in 2012 were from families with incomes below the federal poverty line. For example, one study demonstrated that 68 percent of surveyed DACA recipients experienced an immediate increase in salary from between $5 to $8/hour to over $14/hour while 76 percent increased their annual salaries by at least two fold.

In addition to these pay increases, DACA recipients have been able to obtain driver’s licenses, which have expanded access to improved employment and better educational opportunities. This has also equipped DACA recipients to serve as a driver for their families, mitigating the deportation risk that undocumented family members take when they get behind the wheel, especially in one of Georgia’s six 287(g) jurisdictions, where local law enforcement cooperates with ICE.

Having legal identification also allows DACA recipients to support their families by buying a home or signing a rental agreement. Through all of these changes, DACA recipients have been able to help their families tap into informational networks, enabling families to access critical services such as health care, and enhancing their connectivity with institutions, colleagues and decision makers who recognize them as community members, leaders and friends.

Surveyed DACA recipients have also expressed psychological relief upon receiving DACA, explaining that their previous undocumented status affected their mental and physical health. Beforehand, some experienced reinforced feelings of isolation and others had their stress manifest into physical side effects like ulcers and headaches. Other studies have found that the protections offered by the DACA program “may alleviate stressors,” with positive implications for the mental health and well-being of program participants.

The termination of the DACA program would have put more than 20,000 undocumented Georgians at risk of deportation, including parents who care for approximately 7,600 U.S.-born children. A study on the effect of detention and deportation on US-born children of immigrants found that when there is a threat of deportation to their families, citizen-children of undocumented parents are more likely to live in poverty, experience discrimination and suffer from poor mental and physical health outcomes. The Court’s decision keeps these mixed-status families together, prolonging familial stability and child wellbeing at least a while longer.

Impact of SCOTUS Decision on All Georgians

Communities will be kept whole

In addition to their familial ties in the U.S., DACA recipients also hold deep roots within their communities. In Georgia, the average DACA recipient arrived to the U.S. at age 7, and their average year of arrival was 2000. Most Georgia DACA recipients have been in the country for roughly twenty years, have acquired their primary education in U.S. schools and have lived here for the majority of their lives. DACA recipients attend local churches, teach Georgia’s children and aspire to make a difference in Georgia’s rural hospitals. Because of these deep community connections, the Supreme Court decision temporarily preserves stability for DACA recipients in the state, and strengthens Georgia’s very social fabric, keeping thousands of Georgia families and neighbors together—families like Jaime Rangel’s, and neighbors like those in Dalton who know and love him.

“I would like to help my state prosper and give all my efforts to leave behind a state that will be a better place for our kids and grandkids” – Jaime Rangel

Jaime Rangel, a proud Northwest Georgian, born abroad but raised in Dalton, firmly identifies as a Georgian of mixed cultures. He embraces both his Mexican heritage and Georgian roots because one reminds him of the sacrifices his parents made and the other provides him with optimism for the future.  Having given him peace of mind, Jaime explains that “the DACA program has done great wonders in my life…and has allowed me to work, pay taxes and continue my education…” But regardless of the Court’s decision and any future decision regarding the termination of DACA, Jaime aspires to continue working in government relations and public policy, and even hopes to run for elected office one day.

Economic Implications for Georgia, DACA grantees

The Supreme Court’s majority opinion suggested that DHS should consider how states are affected by the economic activity generated by DACA recipients. In Georgia alone, DACA recipients contribute approximately $170.2 million in federal taxes and $92.5 million a year in state and local taxes. Georgia DACA recipients also hold a collective annual spending power of approximately $747.5 million dollars, own 2,000 homes and contribute approximately $19.6 million dollars in annual mortgage payments and $67.7 million dollars in annual rent payments.

What’s next for DACA recipients

Immigrants come to the U.S. in search of safety and opportunity, fleeing realities that have often been influenced by U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. Immigrants’ continued presence in this country should rely on an understanding that they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect because of the intrinsic value they hold as people. Although the SCOTUS decision provides additional stability to DACA recipients and their families, it does not provide permanent fixes to a system that has prevented them from adjusting their status in the U.S.

In light of the Court’s decision and the continued vulnerability of the DACA program to future cancellation, there is a renewed call for Congress to provide DACA recipients and undocumented immigrants across the nation with a remedy and opportunity to live, work and contribute to our communities. Georgia’s congressional delegation should advocate for a permanent legislative solution that offers DACA recipients, their families and all undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship in the U.S. In the meantime, state legislators should continue to assess policies that increase access to opportunity for undocumented immigrants, like passing an in-state tuition bill.

As a partner to Georgia’s immigrant communities, GBPI recognizes that true equity for immigrants cannot be achieved without acknowledging that narratives hinging support of immigrant communities solely on the ways their work benefit us economically centers the interests of non-immigrants. These arguments rely on and perpetuate white supremacy by uplifting immigrant contributions to justify their presence in this country. Immigrants should not have to highlight their value through facts and figures; their worth is measured by the intrinsic value they hold as people. Their dignity should be upheld not because of any specific metric, but rather because we acknowledge our shared humanity with them.

For all of its power to uplift and encourage, DACA was originally intended to be a stop-gap executive measure, encouraging Congress to take legislative action after it failed to pass the DREAM Act. By openly sharing their stories with the nation, it was the advocacy of young undocumented immigrants that ultimately led to the creation of the DACA program. They risked what little safety they had living in anonymity for a chance at a better future that advanced the collective good of their fellow undocumented friends and family members. The outcome was not only a new program but a broader conversation around how we as a nation should assess our views and actions towards all immigrants, both documented and undocumented.

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