The Trump administration violated the law when it rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program in 2017, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision Thursday. It was, in a way, a win for entrepreneurialism--studies have shown that immigrants are more likely to be entrepreneurs than native-born Americans.
President Obama created DACA in 2012 to grant work permits and a temporary shield from deportation to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, and who met certain qualifications. They had to be younger than 31 when the program was announced and have no criminal record. As of 2019, there were more than 650,000 people enrolled in the program.
In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts called the decision to end DACA, which was announced in a memo by Trump's acting Director of Homeland Security, "arbitrary and capricious." The court decided that the administration did not follow legally required procedures by failing to properly justify ending the program, and failing to consider the hardship it would inflict on DACA recipients--some of whom have gone to college, embarked on careers, started businesses, and had children while relying on the program's protections.
Importantly, the ruling does not decide whether DACA is illegal, as the Trump administration has claimed. Nor does it say that the administration can't move to cancel DACA in the future. "The dispute is instead primarily about the procedure the [Department of Homeland Security] followed in doing so," Roberts wrote. Efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform in Congress have been stymied repeatedly over the years.
Still, DACA recipients, known as "Dreamers," and immigrant-rights advocates were jubilant at the news.
"People like myself can breathe a little bit easier," says Greisa Martínez Rosas, a DACA recipient and the deputy executive director at United We Dream, an advocacy group for immigrant youth. She adds that the ruling came as a welcome surprise, given the court's conservative majority, and that while activists are celebrating, they're gearing up for the next stage of the ongoing fight over immigration.
National polls reveal broad approval among voters of both parties for DACA and a path to citizenship for Dreamers. The business community has also expressed support. In 2017, a group of business leaders, including the CEOs of Apple, Facebook, Google, and more than 400 others, signed an open letter opposing DACA's cancellation. And last fall, more than 100 companies, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation, filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the case that was decided Thursday, Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California. "Eliminating DACA will inflict serious harm on U.S. companies, all workers, and the American economy as a whole," the brief read.
Nine percent of Dreamers aged 25 and older started their own businesses after receiving DACA, according to a 2019 survey by the Center for American Progress. And a 2015 report from the Americas Society/Council of the Americas and the Fiscal Policy Institute found that immigrants as a whole are disproportionately well-represented among the owners of "Main Street" businesses like grocery stores and nail salons.
For Dreamers who run businesses, Thursday's ruling ensures they can continue to operate and employ people without the fear of deportation, which is especially acute amid the pandemic and economic crisis.
"It's a nightmare," says Zaid Consuegra Sauza, 31, who was brought to the U.S. at age 11 and was approved for DACA in 2015. Last September, he opened a vegan fast-casual restaurant, Pirate's Bone Burgers, in Kansas City, Missouri. Demand took off almost immediately, but when the business had to shut down in March, things became much less certain. Pirate's Bone reopened for takeout and delivery last month and has been limping along thanks to a PPP loan, but more than half the staff chose not to come back. "It's still a flip of a coin if we stay open," says Consuegra Sauza, who adds that being undocumented has only heightened his anxiety.
The Supreme Court ruling is a small bright spot in a long struggle for DACA recipients. "We still have to fight," he says. "We're flesh and bones--we're not made out of cardboard; we're not made out of plastic or PVC; we need to be treated as human beings."