WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Trump administration cannot immediately end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
The immigration policy allows some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to apply to remain here without being deported for two years at a time.
In a five to four decision, the Supreme Court majority wrote that the Department of Homeland Security did not comply with procedural requirements to provide a "reasoned explanation" for why it planned to rescind DACA.
The Trump administration can try again to rescind DACA by going back through the lower courts, but some advocates do not believe it would be possible to rescind the program before the November election.
There were nearly 4,000 DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers, in Ohio as of September 30, 2019, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and a total of nearly 653,000 across the U.S., almost half of those in California and Texas.
'Really, they just punted'
Inna Simakovsky, an immigration attorney in Columbus, said her firm has approximately 500 Dreamer clients, and many of them had questions about what the ruling meant.
"They tried to rescind DACA, and the way they rescinded it is a no-go, so now we’re just gonna try to rescind it a different way," Simakovsky said, adding that it was similar to the Trump administration's travel ban or "Muslim ban."
She didn't think it would be likely that this could be rescinded before the November election.
"I think the timing of this is going to be very interesting because it is such a political issue and there are so many DACA recipients and they are still integrated into essential occupations and into the economy," Simakovsky said.
She added that many courts are on limited staffing due to COVID-19.
"[The Trump administration has] not gotten what they wanted, and the Supreme Court, which is a conservative court with a conservative chief justice, has told them, 'You didn’t do it correctly,'" Simakovsky said. "So to bully this through quickly, I don’t think they have even their own party behind it."
Asked about the reaction to the ruling Thursday, Simakovsky said it was a good day to celebrate.
"But I don’t think this is the end-all, be-all, and I don’t think that tomorrow we should stop and say, 'This is a great case,' cause really they just punted, and I think the fight continues."
She said she believes this issue could be solved by passing the DREAM Act, but noted that comprehensive immigration reform would also take care of the issues DACA recipients face.
"If you just focus on the fact that families belong together and that is the kind of the center of what you’re trying to do, I think that it’s possible," Simakovsky said.
DACA was 'like a tourniquet'
Veronica Dahlberg, executive director of HOLA Ohio, said the SCOTUS ruling was "a monumental ruling for the Latino community and for the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers in this country whose futures really hung in the balance."
She said the ruling means Dreamers don't have to worry about deportation or being put in a detention center.
"Dreamers are such a big part of the American family. They’re already so interwoven into our communities," Dahlberg said. "They went to school here, elementary school, high school. They’ve purchased homes here, they’ve started careers here. They are raising their families here."
However, Dahlberg said advocates are "taking this win very cautiously," since the SCOTUS ruling was based on procedural issues.
"This opens it up for them to go back and find another to cancel it and find a way," Dahlberg said.
She said that the U.S. needs more substantive immigration reform.
"Even DACA, as great as it is, wasn’t a solution. It was just a temporary, I guess like not even a band-aid, like a tourniquet," Dahlberg said. "But it still leaves everybody in limbo."
She said it has been "an emotional roller coaster for young people, and it's taken a toll, there's no doubt about it."
Dahlberg urged reform that included a pathway to legal status, to be extended to Dreamers.
"We can’t just keep them in this limbo every two years, paying thousands of dollars to lawyers and government fees and so on, for just a two-year protection from deportation," Dahlberg said. "We do need something more substantive and that should be a pathway to citizenship. I think they’ve earned it, they deserve it and they bring so much to our country and just as human beings."
She added that she was thankful for all of those who have supported Dreamers, including the NAACP.
"I just want to thank all those that have stood with us on this," Dahlberg said. "When there are so many issues that we have to contend with, it’s nice to have friends."
News 5 spoke to four Ohio Dreamers on Thursday following the SCOTUS ruling, all of whom were brought to the U.S. from Mexico before they were five years old.
'I feel like this is my country'
Susana Chavez is a senior at Lake Erie College, studying accounting. She works for a financial services company in Northeast Ohio and plans to get her master's degree as well. She's been a DACA recipient for about six years since she was 15.
"If it weren’t for DACA, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college or even look at that," Chavez said, adding she likely wouldn't be working at her job, either, if it weren't for DACA.
She said that it's been stressful to see DACA in limbo for a couple of years.
Chavez has been in the U.S. since she was a year old and has lived in Perry, Ohio ever since with her parents and brother.
"I don’t know anywhere else," Chavez said. "I can’t travel out of the U.S., so I’ve just stayed here ever since. I feel like this is my country. This is where I grew up."
She's seen her parents struggle, and she knows if DACA is taken away, she would have to stop going to school and working at her job. She also worries about the possibility of deportation.
"I’ve known a lot of Dreamers who have been incarcerated, and to me that’s really scary," Chavez said. "You haven’t done anything wrong, and to be treated like a criminal, that’s kind of really like scary to me. That’s one of my biggest fears."
She also fears being separated from her family, because she doesn't know much about Mexico. Although she has family down there, she doesn't really know them.
Chavez said she felt relieved by the Supreme Court ruling.
"It’s great news to hear and it’s a big victory for all the Dreamers, but I feel like there’s still like a battle that we’re trying to continue to fight," Chavez said. "We’re not going to stop there."
Chavez hopes that Congress will pass immigration reform allowing for a pathway to citizenship, not just for Dreamers but for their parents, who are not protected by DACA.
She thanked everyone who has supported Dreamers.
"A lot of people say that there’s Dreamers that are criminals, things like that, but I just want to say that a lot of the Dreamers are not," Chavez said. "We’re here to try and be a citizen like everyone else, try to work, try to make a better place and just be part of the community like we always have."
'We were just kids'
Denisse Rangel-Negrete will be 19 soon, and she's been in the U.S. since she was three years old.
The Norwalk, Ohio resident said Thursday's decision by SCOTUS was "very emotional, powerful, exciting. After everything, it turned out great, turned out in our favor, so very happy."
Of her move to the U.S., Rangel-Negrete said, "We didn’t know. We were just kids. We didn’t know that coming to a different [country] would affect us this much."
It was difficult for her to understand that as a child, especially since she'd lived in the U.S. so long.
"I couldn’t comprehend what was going on until I started growing up, but it did affect me because I would see my friends, after high school, go to college," Rangel-Negrete said. "If [DACA] would have terminated, I would have been just stuck without anything to do."
She later added, "We were brought to the United States by our families to pursue a better future for ourselves to better ourselves because our parents did not have the same opportunities we have today. Everything we do is for our parents."
Rangel-Negrete said that she wouldn't know what to do if she was sent back to her home country of Mexico.
"This is our home, this is all we know," she said.
While she thinks there is a possibility that DACA could still be rescinded, she said she tries to look at both the positive and the negative.
"We just gotta keep our minds positive and think that everything will turn out good in the future for us," Rangel-Negrete said.
'Like light at the end of a dark tunnel'
Eyman Diaz of Norwalk, Ohio, has been a DACA recipient for almost four years. At 19-years-old, he's been in the U.S. for approximately 15 years.
"When I first came here, I was unaware of my situation until I was growing up, and my parents explained to me that why I couldn’t go to college, why I couldn’t have a regular job, and do regular teenager things," Diaz said.
He said DACA gave him opportunities, opening up doors that were previously closed to him.
"Like light at the end of a dark tunnel," Diaz said. "It was able to help me with a lot of things like being able to go to college, get my driver’s license."
He believes the program has been helpful not just for him but many other Dreamers, and he worried about it being rescinded.
"The goals and dreams we had, they were gonna disappear with us, with just a vote, rule by the court," Diaz said.
He said it would have been difficult to return to Mexico after living in the U.S. most of his life. He and his parents made plans, though, just in case something were to happen, "like where I would go in Mexico, where I would be located, what to do."
He said he tries to stay positive but thinks it's good to be prepared, just in case.
"This win, I see as a big win for us Dreamers, so I don’t think there is any way to fear it being eliminated or shut down," Diaz said.
'We won a really hard victory'
Kevin Zacarias, who lives in Willard, Ohio, came to the U.S. when he was four years old, about 15 years ago. He has been a DACA recipient since he was a teenager.
"When I first came here, I didn’t know any English whatsoever so it was hard for me to make friends, it was hard for me to speak to my teachers," Zacarias said.
As the years went by, Zacarias learned English and made friends. He began to plan his future and talk about going to college.
"My parents ended up telling me, you know, 'You don’t have the same abilities that other people have here in America. You’re not a citizen so you can’t work here at the moment, you can’t really get a good job at the moment, you can’t really go to college, you can’t get loans and stuff,'" Zacarias said, adding that it "brought him down" when he understood the situation in which he was living.
When DACA came about, Zacarias and his mother were excited and wanted to get him signed up quickly. Through DACA, Zacarias was able to get his first job as a teenager.
"Now that DACA’s here, I can actually plan for college and everything, see what college I can get into," Zacarias said. "We don’t have FAFSA, but at least college is enough. I can work hard, get maybe two or three jobs or so, just so I can pay my debt and my tuition and stuff."
Zacarias said he felt emotional but also scared as the SCOTUS decision drew closer.
"I was kind of scared because I didn’t know what to do afterward, like if they took it down," Zacarias said. "If I went back to Mexico, you know, I really didn’t grow up there. Yes, I’m from there, but just the fact that I really don’t know the environment over there, and I’m guessing it’s different from what I’m living in the environment here."
He was "really happy" to hear the SCOTUS ruling Thursday.
"The emotion got to me," Zacarias said. "I was like, 'OK, you know, now what am I gonna plan, what’s next?'"
Of what will happen in the future, Zacarias said, "We won a really hard victory, but it’s looking kinda iffy, perhaps we could say, from both sides [the Trump administration and DACA]."
Still, he said he's confident they might keep the program around.
"We as Dreamers, we as DACA students, we are trying to strive hard for making changes, not only in our community but also in the United States," Zacarias said. "So I’m feeling pretty positive that everything’s going to come into hand and possibly we can get citizenship or something like that."