Good news for immigrant Dreamers from the Supreme Court, now Congress should act

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, June 18, 2020

Today, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Trump administration’s 2017 attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program did not follow the appropriate process under the Administrative Procedure Act. This means that roughly 650,000 young people will keep their DACA status – which provides them with renewable, temporary authorization to work and protection from deportation.

The court also ordered the administration to begin accepting new applications for DACA, which would mean that some of the youngest immigrants who have “aged in” to eligibility since 2017 would now have the chance to apply. The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute estimates that about 66,000 young people are in this category. (To apply for DACA, individuals must meet a host of requirements, including having arrived in the U.S. before their sixteenth birthday and having continuously resided in this country since June 15, 2007.) However, much remains uncertain about this portion of the ruling and more should become clear in the coming days.

The ruling is a triumph for young immigrant Dreamers who organized against strong resistance from federal officials and even some other advocates to push for the enactment of the original DACA program during the Obama administration in 2012, and who have continued organizing throughout the Trump administration’s attempts to end the program and ongoing litigation by state governments.

However, the win is temporary. The administration can still try again to end the DACA program by following the appropriate procedure. Even if federal officials do not, Texas attorney general Ken Paxton has vowed to continue litigation against it. The only path to permanent protections for Dreamers goes through Congress.

The US public overwhelmingly supports a legislative solution for Dreamers, with a recent poll showing 85 percent favor allowing these young people to stay in the United States. At least 72 percent of Fortune 500 companies employ DACA recipients, and the program enjoys widespread support among CEOs. In 2017, hundreds of business leaders signed an open letter to the Trump administration and Congressional leadership in support of DACA.National Skills Coalition has long championed a path to citizenship for young immigrant Dreamers, including DACA recipients. NSC now urges the Senate to immediately take up the Dream and Promise Act or similar legislation that would allow young people who have earned key postsecondary credentials to attain permanent legal status and citizenship.


Who are DACA recipients?

On average, DACA recipients arrived in the US at the age of 7 and have grown up in this country. As NSC documented in an earlier fact sheet, many have earned in-demand credentials. Today, there are roughly 650,000 young people with active DACA status. Collectively, their households pay $5.6 billion in federal taxes and $3.1 billion in state and local taxes.

Harvard researcher Dr. Roberto G. Gonzales has chronicled the myriad positive impacts of DACA on individual immigrants, their families, employers, and communities. His research found that DACA increased economic and social mobility for its beneficiaries. Many of the stories highlighted in his research focus on young people who earned industry-recognized credentials, such as Laura, a DACA beneficiary from Arizona who completed an eight month medical assistant training program and is now employed in the healthcare field.

Like Laura, many other DACA recipients are employed in frontline jobs helping the US respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, roughly 27,000 DACA recipients work in essential healthcare occupations. An analysis by the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that states with the highest number of DACA recipients working in health care occupations were California (8,600), Texas (4,300), New York (1,700), Illinois (1,400), Florida (1,100), Arizona (1,000), and Washington (1,000).

CAP’s analysis also found that 15,000 DACA recipients are teachers. Approximately 4,700 DACA recipients work in food-related wholesale trade, and 8,800 work in food warehousing, transportation, and delivery. Finally, roughly 15,000 DACA recipients are employed in essential grocery-related occupations, such as cashiers; stockers and laborers; and supervisors.


What’s next? Implications for education and workforce

The Supreme Court ruling means that DACA recipients will continue to be eligible to work legally in the U.S. and to participate in public workforce services funded under Title I of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

DACA recipients will also continue to be eligible for WIOA Title II adult education services. (Notably, unlike Title I services, federal law does not require individuals to have work authorization to access Title II services, though a few states have imposed their own requirements.) These include adult basic education, high school equivalency, and English language classes.

As Dr. Gonzales’s research has documented, many DACA recipients have pursued postsecondary education, including both shorter-term career and technical education (CTE) and certificate programs as well as longer-term degree programs. Estimates from the nonprofit New American Economy and the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration indicate that roughly 216,000 DACA recipients and DACA-eligible individuals are currently enrolled in higher education. The Supreme Court ruling will make it easier for them to stay in school and complete their education.

While DACA holders are not eligible for federal student financial aid, some states provide financial aid to them and other Dreamers. NSC has previously called for greater state-level investment in higher education for Dreamers.


How can skills advocates take action?

Congress is the only entity that can provide permanent protections for Dreamers. Skills advocates should take action now by urging their Senators to immediately pass legislation providing a path to citizenship.

The House of Representatives has already passed a robust Dreamer bill that would provide a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and other Dreamers, as well as individuals with Temporary Protected Status. The bill is known as HR 6, the Dream and Promise Act. In early June 2020, the three lead co-sponsors of HR 6 published an op-ed in The Hill calling for action from the Senate.

Even if the Senate chooses not to take up HR 6, an alternative Dreamer bill in the Senate does have bipartisan support. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), both longtime advocates for Dreamers, are lead sponsors of the Dream Act of 2019, S. 874. While the bill is somewhat different from the House bill, it does include NSC’s recommended skills-related pathway to citizenship.

Take action now by contacting your Senators.