Supreme Court hears DACA arguments

Clark: Trump decision to rescind program ‘morally bankrupt’

ALMOST 6,000 MASSACHUSETTS immigrants — and 660,000 nationwide — are on edge, waiting for the US Supreme Court to determine their fate.

The nation’s high court heard arguments on Tuesday from several “Dreamers,” the name for immigrants who participate in a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows young individuals with unlawful presence in the US to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation. The young people were brought to their country illegally by their parents or overstayed visas.

President Trump and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in August 2017 rescinded the program, calling it “illegal and unconstitutional.” Several Dreamers, joined by the University of California, which counts 1,700 DACA recipients as students, sued the government to stop the action, largely on procedural grounds, and prevailed in the lower courts. The high court’s conservative majority gave little sign they would side with the lower courts.

At a press conference Tuesday at Cambridge City Hall hosted by the Massachusetts Immigration and Advocacy Coalition, Karina Ham, a 20-year-old Lesley University junior who is studying to be a teacher, told her story. Ham came to the US with her family when she was four, following a series of a natural disasters in Honduras. She has had DACA status since she was 16, but that protection expired in October.

“It’s been up and down these past few months leading up to the hearing,” she said. “You still want to be a student, a daughter, and you have all these thoughts in your mind. Like what happens now? There’s a feeling of uncertainty”

Rep. Katherine Clark, a Democrat, called Trump’s decision to rescind DACA “morally bankrupt.”  She said the case for DACA is strong. “Dreamers have stepped up to serve their county with their academic success, military service, and commitment to improving their community,” she said.

Rep. Katherine Clark speaks about the Supreme Court hearing oral arguments about the end of deferred action for childhood arrivals. (Photo by Sarah Betancourt)

Tonia Jaime, 26, was cut off from DACA three years ago. Jaime came to the US at the age of seven under a humanitarian visa to get a kidney transplant and dialysis at Mass General Hospital. She’s remained in the US since with her family, receiving occasional treatment at the hospital.

As a junior at Mount Ida College studying in the psychology program, she was given an opportunity to study in Mexico City for a few weeks in a work-study program, which was allowed through DACA requirements. But she returned early because of kidney complications suffered abroad. A year later she could not reapply for the protected status again because her early return to the country from Mexico violated the program’s procedures. She has been undocumented since, struggling to buy private health insurance to cover her continued treatment.

“Because I’ve been through the loss of DACA, I’m here for my friends, and I think of them,” Jaime said. Jaime’s younger sister also has DACA, along with many of her friends.

Jaime is back on a kidney transplant list, and is hoping to get a green card to assuage her fears. She is awaiting an interview with US Citizenship and Immigration Services in the meantime.

The ruling on the DACA program is expected in June. Ahead of the Supreme Court oral arguments, Trump tweeted, “If Supreme Court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!” Over the past two years, Trump has occasionally mentioned handing off the task of keeping young immigrants in the country legally to Congress.

Tonia Jaime, a former deferred action recipient, talks about the benefits of the Obama-era program and her struggles since being unable to renew her DACA. (Photo by Sarah Betancourt)

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Clark said the House has already approved the Dream and Promise Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and temporary protected status holders. That piece of legislation would impact more than 30,000 people in Massachusetts, including over 19,000 young immigrants. “Once again we see this [bill] collecting dust at the Senate door,” Clark said.

Trump also erroneously tweeted on Tuesday that “Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from ‘angels.’ Some are very tough, hardened criminals.” The DACA program actually bars applicants with felony convictions and several types of misdemeanors. Recipients have to undergo intensive background checks before customs and immigration services every two years.