A federal court in Maryland has struck down a challenge to President Donald Trump’s executive order to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on March 5, arguing that President Obama did not have the constitutional authority to start the program back in 2012. In his written opinion, U.S. Federal Judge Roger Titus cited the principle of separation of powers in explaining that establishing DACA was an overreach of the executive branch.
“Under the Constitution, it is the responsibility of Congress to determine immigration policy, and the executive branch must only act within its constitutional and delegated legislative authority,” Titus wrote. “Although Congress has repeatedly failed to pass Dreamer legislation in the past, the ball is again in its court.”
On the same day as Titus’s decision, Congress failed to pass legislation that would have established its own version of DACA.
March 5 was the deadline Trump set in place to end DACA, but federal district courts in California and New York granted temporary stays, allowing the program to continue nationwide, until the district courts could take further action; In the meantime, Congress could pass its own legislation; or the Supreme Court could hear an appeal.
DACA postpones deportation for so-called Dreamers — young immigrants who entered the country as minors, and entered or remained in the U.S. illegally — and allows them to receive work and study visas. The California and New York rulings gave hope to the 700,000 immigrants who are on DACA in the U.S., about 7,000 of which live in Nassau County.
But that hope was short-lived, because while courts have issued their injunctions, nothing prevents the government from denying new applications or renewals in the meantime. And neither of the two earlier rulings denied that the president has the authority to end the program; they only held that the government’s reason for doing so — that the original Obama action was unlawful — had not been shown. The Titus ruling held that it was unnecessary for the government to do so. The ruling on constitutional grounds could set the stage for a Supreme Court appeal — this time by the plaintiffs.
“They can’t keep playing with our lives,” Josseline, a 24-year-old graduate student from Hempstead, said.
For Josseline, the DACA debate has been a nonstop rollecoaster that brings about hope and heartbreak. Although she remembers crossing the border from Guatemala when she was 10, she did not have a full grasp of her undocumented status until she tried applying for college. Her mom had to tell her that she did not have a social security number and could not apply for federal aid.
“It was my dream to go to college, so this was basically a nightmare,” Josseline said.
With the help of her high school counselor, Josseline was able to apply for scholarships and go to Nassau Community College, and once DACA came along and she got sponsors to back her education, she went to SUNY Stony Brook. DACA even let her get a driver’s license so she could commute. But despite all the good DACA did for her, Josseline felt that she could never brush off the stigma attached to it. She was always afraid to mention her status because she thought others would judge her and think of her as an “illegal alien.”
“When I was an undergrad at Stony Brook, I told my class about my
status, and their reactions were the complete opposite of what I expected,” Josseline said.
Josseline found support at Stony Brook and even participated in the DACA demonstrations that students held there when Trump announced that he would end it last year. Josseline wants to be a social worker after she gets her master’s degree. She wants to help advocate for people who need it, especially the students back at her alma mater, Hempstead High School. During an internship as an undergrad, Josseline had actually worked at Hempstead High School and successfully set up an immigration information conference to help the undocumented student population learn their rights and find ways to attend college.
Anthony, a 19-year-old El Salvadorian, was another Hempstead High School student who dreamed about going to college. His parents had been fighting for him to get DACA, and they succeeded in 2016, just as Anthony was applying to colleges. With the help of the Dream.US group, which helps Dreamers get into college, Anthony was able to get a full ride to Hunter College.
“My biggest worry was losing that scholarship when I heard that DACA was being cancelled,” Anthony said. “To be honest, I already knew that it was going to end the moment that he, [Trump], was elected.”
Although his sponsors have assured him that they will continue to back him no matter what happens with DACA, the constant worrying about his status keeps Anthony on edge. Two weeks ago, Anthony’s parents talked to him about what he should do if he were to ever come home and find that they have been taken away by immigration enforcement. And as he continues to study medicine at Hunter, Anthony meets medical students and residents who are on DACA, who are constantly afraid of having all their work be in vain should DACA ever end.
“You’re basically scraping everything they’ve done, all their dreams, with a signature.” Anthony said.
What DACA means to students like Josseline and Anthony did not escape Titus’s mind when he made his ruling. Throughout his opinion, he criticized Trump’s rhetoric against the immigrant population, but Titus explained that his job was to uphold the constitution, not protect people from the decisions of their elected officials. DACA recipients cannot vote.
“This Court does not like the outcome of this case, but is constrained by its constitutionally limited role to the result that it has reached,” Titus wrote. “Hopefully, the Congress and the President will finally get their job done.”
Congress is expected introduce another DACA solution during the next spending bill hearing on March 23.