Illinois officials, immigration advocates applaud DACA decision

By Peter Hancock Capitol News Illinois

Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, pictured here during a news conference Jan. 20 at the Capitol in Springfield, on Thursday called the U.S. Supreme Court ruling preventing the Trump administration from dismantling Obama-era immigration policy a “ray of hope for those who continue to believe fundamental equality is the true American dream.” (Capitol News Illinois photo by Jerry Nowicki)

SPRINGFIELD – State officials in Illinois reacted with cautious relief Thursday, June 18 after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Trump administration’s attempt to dismantle an Obama-era policy known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

That program, known as DACA, allows some undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States, work and attend school without fear of deportation.

“I’m pleased the Supreme Court has stopped @realDonaldTrump’s lawless attempt at ending the DACA program,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker posted on Twitter. “This is a victory for the nearly 700,000 young Americans who are invaluable to our nation and our future. Let this reaffirm that the American dream is possible for everyone.”

In 2012, the Obama administration launched DACA, which blocked deportation proceedings against people who were brought to the U.S. as children if they met certain age, residency, education and criminal history criteria as well as those who served honorably in the U.S. military.

People who meet the requirements are given permits to remain in the United States to work or attend school for two years. Those permits can be renewed if they continue to meet the program’s requirements.

According to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, or ICIRR, there are an estimated 42,000 people living in Illinois under the protection of that program.

One of those is Jesus Perez, a recent college graduate from Northeastern Illinois University who is now active in a neighborhood association in Chicago. He said during a video conference Thursday that DACA made it possible for him to become the first college graduate in his family.

“One of my biggest incentives to pursue education was because of the DACA program,” he said. “The DACA program helped me envision an opportunity that seemed impossible when I was a young high school student.”

In 2017, shortly after President Donald Trump took office, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security moved quickly to terminate the program, arguing the Obama administration exceeded its authority in enacting the program and that DACA conflicted with the Immigration and Naturalization Act.

Lawsuits quickly followed in New York, California and the District of Columbia, and in each case district courts agreed with plaintiffs who had argued the Trump administration’s actions were “arbitrary and capricious” because DHS had not given sufficient reason for taking the action.

All three district courts sided with the plaintiffs. But while the cases were on appeal, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen issued a memo attempting to explain the agency’s reasoning more fully.

Before all the courts of appeals had ruled in the matter, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take the case on direct appeal, and in a 5-4 decision Thursday, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the court’s four liberals, ruled that Nielsen’s additional information was insufficient and that the decision had been arbitrary and capricious.

“The dispute before the Court is not whether DHS may rescind DACA. All parties agree that it may,” Roberts wrote for the majority. “The dispute is instead primarily about the procedure the agency fol­lowed in doing so.”

The ruling means the Trump administration could try again, this time more fully documenting a legal rationale for terminating the program.

“Let me be clear. The fight is far from over,” U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia said during a video conference hosted by ICIRR. “We can sleep well tonight but we must wake up our nation and get ready for what’s next. The court left open the door that any White House, including this one, can try again, and knowing this White House, they will.”

Also during that conference call, ICIRR attorney Fred Tsao said DHS will not begin accepting new DACA applications immediately because the court’s decision had just been released earlier that day.

“And in fact DHS leadership has issued some statements flaming the Supreme Court,” he said. “That said, Homeland Security should be implementing this decision really soon.”

ICIRR issued a statement Thursday acknowledging that possibility and calling on Congress to pass legislation that would put a DACA-like program into law.

“This possibility calls for a more permanent solution for immigrants who had or who are otherwise eligible for DACA, as well as the millions of other immigrants who remain vulnerable to ICE enforcement and deportation,” the advocacy group said in a statement.

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza also praised the decision and defended DACA, saying, “In Illinois, these young men and women contribute to our economy, have served ably in state government, including in the Illinois Office of Comptroller, and deserve a chance at the American dream. Our country and our state are better off for having them here.”

State Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, took to Twitter to call Thursday’s decision, along with one earlier in the week extending workplace protections to LGBTQ workers, “a ray of hope for those who continue to believe fundamental equality is the true American dream.”

“The court affirmed our beliefs. Now it is up to us to act upon them and do the work to take what we believe and make it reality,” Harmon said.