The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in the coming weeks on the legality of President Donald Trump’s decision to end a program offering work permits and protection from deportation to hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, often called “Dreamers.” The president moved in 2017 to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, put in place by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.
So, what is the DACA program? Obama announced DACA in 2012 after a decade of failed efforts to pass broad immigration legislation in the U.S. Congress, including bills that would have provided a path to citizenship for the Dreamers. The program offered immigrants who came to the United States illegally before age 16 the chance to obtain a work permit and a reprieve from the threat of deportation. To be enrolled in DACA, an applicant cannot have been convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor and needed to be either still in school, have completed high school or have served in the U.S. military.
The immigrants for whom DACA was devised, Obama said, were raised and educated in the United States, grew up as Americans and often know little about their countries of origin. The term Dreamers came from the name of legislation known as the DREAM Act, short for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.
About 649,000 people are enrolled in DACA, according to the most recent government data from the end of 2019. A total of about 825,600 immigrants have been enrolled in DACA since its inception, with some no longer enrolled. About 90 percent of the current enrollees were born in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. More than half of them live in California, Texas, Illinois, New York and Florida. The average age of DACA enrollees is 26, and there are slightly more women than men, the latest statistics showed. A 2017 analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute think tank found the top occupations for immigrants in DACA were food preparation and serving, sales, office and administrative support, and construction.
DACA enrollees also hold thousands of jobs in the medical field. Some 27,000 DACA enrollees are healthcare workers including nurses, pharmacists and home-care aides, while nearly 200 are medical students, residents and physicians, plaintiffs told the Supreme Court.
On Sept. 5, 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the U.S. Justice Department could not legally defend DACA. Sessions, who was the Trump administration’s top law enforcement official, concluded that Obama exceeded his constitutional powers by creating the program through executive action, bypassing Congress. Sessions also concluded that DACA encouraged illegal immigration of unaccompanied minors and hurt job prospects for native-born Americans, claims disputed by immigration advocates. Trump’s plan to end the program called for a gradual wind down.
A group of states including California and New York, people enrolled in DACA and civil rights groups sued to block Trump’s plan to end the program, saying his administration failed to follow the proper lawful steps. Lower courts have issued rulings blocking Trump’s action. As a result, renewals of existing DACA permits have continued but acceptance of new DACA applications has been suspended by the administration.
Finally, major U.S. companies support DACA and have hired work-eligible beneficiaries. In a brief to the Supreme Court, 125 companies including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Starbucks and 18 major business associations said ending DACA would “inflict serious harm” on employers, workers and the economy.