Article Caitlin Patler Erin R. Hamilton

Supreme Court decision is welcome news for DACA recipients but program remains vulnerable
Op-Ed by Affiliates Erin Hamilton and Caitlin Patler

Cal Matters
June 18, 2020

In a stinging blow to the Trump administration, Thursday’s Supreme Court decision found the administration’s attempt to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, was “arbitrary and capricious.” 

The court’s 5-4 decision denies the Trump administration the ability to proceed with an immediate phase-out of the program, stating that it did not sufficiently justify the termination. However, the administration could still end the program in the future if it provides sufficient legal justification.

Announced by the Obama administration in 2012, DACA granted relief from deportation and temporary work authorization to eligible undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. 

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The DACA program has been an unequivocal success. As we and other researchers showed in a brief to SCOTUS in today’s case, the research on DACA is clear: DACA has led to extensive socio-economic and health gains for the approximately 700,000 currently active DACA recipients, including increased high school graduation and college-going, greater employment and higher wages, and improved physical and emotional health. 

But DACA has been beneficial beyond recipients themselves. As the plaintiffs argued in today’s decision, DACA’s impacts have also “radiate(d) outward,” substantially improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens – and children in particular. 

Although DACA recipients were themselves children when they came to the United States, most are now adults, and many have formed their own families. Today, nearly 256,000 U.S.-citizen children have at least one parent who is a DACA recipient. DACA has been a great benefit for those children: in addition to economic gains for their households, our and other research has linked DACA to significant reductions in adjustment and anxiety disorders and improved overall health among DACA recipients’ U.S.-citizen children. DACA has actually made these young, U.S.-citizen children healthier.

More than 200,000 DACA recipients are filling essential roles in the battle against COVID-19 – including frontline health care workers, workers across the food supply chain and teachers. Each of these groups of workers is helping sustain our communities: health care professionals literally keep us alive, food supply workers keep food on our plates, and educators keep our youngsters learning. 

The SCOTUS decision means DACA is safe for now, but perhaps not permanently. Indeed, the administration could still move forward with legal justifications to end the program. 

It is clear that terminating DACA would be catastrophic for the recipients and their families, as well as for broader communities across the United States. Our research has shown that uncertainty about the program’s future can diminish the health improvements DACA recipients and their children initially experienced. If DACA ends, recipients’ and their children’s lives will be upended dramatically, with serious risks to their wellbeing. Indeed, ICE has already stated it will pursue the deportation of DACA recipients with previous deportation orders if the program ends.

Until Congress acts to grant access to permanent legal status, the wellbeing of DACA recipients, their U.S.-citizen children and our communities more broadly remain under threat.