Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was always meant to be a temporary solution. An executive order signed by President Obama in 2012, it was crafted only after sustained political pressure by young undocumented immigrants made action necessary, in the face of a Republican-controlled Congress unwilling to pass even the mildest of legislative fixes. DACA was a victory, but an imperfect one that left the vast majority of undocumented immigrants outside of its protections: it excludes those who were born before an arbitrary cutoff date or who came to the United States after the age of 16, as well as young people who dropped out of school or have a criminal record. Still, it was a lifeline for the hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants who in the past seven years have been able to get a work permit, go to school, raise their families, and live their lives (relatively) free of the threat of deportation.
But now, the fate of almost 700,000 DACA recipients rests in the hands of the Supreme Court, two years after Donald Trump announced he planned to end DACA, a decision that quickly led to a series of lawsuits that have wound their way to the highest court in the land. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a series of cases that will determine the future of DACA and, crucially, the limits of presidential power to craft immigration policy. For the young people who are fighting for their futures, they know that, as 30-year-old DACA recipient Daniel Briones put it to Jezebel, the stakes are much higher than just the legality of the program they depend on—in a real way, they’re also fighting for the ability of their families and their communities, who have been increasingly under attack in a Trump administration that is seemingly attempting to outdo itself in cruelty with each passing day, to be able to remain.
A loss at the Supreme Court, Briones said, “would mean that I’d lose my job, and I will not know what to do. I’d have to find a job where I can get paid under the table.” But he is keenly aware of DACA’s limitations. “My mom doesn’t have status, and there are members of the community and friends who didn’t qualify for DACA,” Briones said. “When Trump talks about getting solutions for DACA but he wants to increase ICE and deportations, he wants to ramp up the immigration machine, I think that’s unacceptable for us. We don’t want to endanger our community while we get relief for ourselves.”
Briones, who was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, moved permanently to the United States when he was a teenager, along with his mother. Born with a vision impairment, he had been coming regularly to Dallas, Texas, since he was a baby in order to get medical care, and his family made the decision for him to stay when he was 14. He was getting his bachelor’s degree in economics at Texas State University in San Marcos when Obama created DACA. “There was a lot of uncertainty, because I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to do after I graduated. I knew it would be hard for me to find a job,” Briones said. “It was a big relief, because that would allow me to get a better job and remain here without constant fear of deportation.” Because of DACA, he was able to get a work permit, find a job at a bank, and take care of his broader family. But he’s aware every day that while he has some protections against deportation, his mother does not. “I’m worried that something will happen to her all of sudden, that there’s an immigration raid or any kind of contact with police,” Briones said. “That’s a constant fear. That’s something that’s always on my mind.”
Since Trump took office, the future of DACA recipients like Briones has become a political football, with the lives of young people who depend on DACA used as little more than a bargaining chip by both parties. In 2017, when Trump announced he wanted to end DACA, he urged Congress to pass legislation to take its place. (The statement released by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which blamed DACA for “[denying] jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens” was perhaps a more honest account of the reasons why the administration wanted to rescind the program.)
On Tuesday, Trump, painting some DACA recipients as “very tough, hardened criminals” and “far from ‘angels,’” wrote on Twitter that if the Supreme Court rules in his favor, “a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!” Yet it is obvious from his moves in the past two years that Trump has no intentions of protecting the young people he had once claimed that he had “a great love for,” instead using the lives of DACA recipients as a negotiating tool in his effort to build the wall and limit legal immigration. Republicans in Congress, who have claimed they would love to protect the legal status of DACA recipients, have stuffed their legislative proposals with poison pills, from funding for the border wall to the gutting of family reunification visas. And Democrats, for all of their marathon speeches, have seemed equally as willing to leave the needs of DACA recipients on the bargaining floor.
Amid the uncertainty of DACA’s future, DACA recipients have reported being discriminated against by employers, as companies become hesitant to hire people whose legal status is increasingly tenuous. As Leezia Dhalla, an immigration reform activist and DACA recipient told Jezebel shortly after Trump’s announcement, the uncertainty is paralyzing. “It’s really hard to plan for a future that is so uncertain and so temporary in so many ways,” Dhalla said. “There’s so many questions that people have and so many things that people want to do that are really restrained because of our immigration status.”
As Vox’s Ian Millhiser wrote, the Supreme Court decision in Tuesday’s cases could have an impact far beyond potentially ending DACA, which he notes that the Trump administration “could end tomorrow” if it wanted—if the justices rule that DACA is illegal, he wrote, “that wouldn’t just allow the Trump administration to wind down DACA, it would mean that no future president may ever implement a similar program.” Immigration reform through executive action would no longer be possible, a blow to future, progressive presidents who may face, as Obama did, a Congress unwilling to act.
“No matter what happens at the Supreme Court, I will keep fighting,” Briones said. When we spoke, he was about to travel to Austin for a rally targeting the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has led the efforts to end DACA. “If we all fight together and stay together, regardless of the decision of the Supreme Court, that’s something really powerful,” Briones added. “When the community fights together, that’s the only way we’re able to get things done.”