The U.S. Supreme Court has been busy settling landmark cases this week. Monday, it ruled that gay
and transgender people are protected from workplace discrimination under the Civil Rights Act.
Thursday, it upheld the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields certain undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Considering the court’s political makeup, DACA recipient Melissa Martínez Domínguez almost couldn’t believe the justices' decision. Now, the 25-year-old Fort Worth resident said she feels less fearful and anxious about her future.
“I think everyone’s excited right now, and it’s happy news, especially during these times,” Martínez Domínguez said. “But, we know it can easily be taken away again.”
The Obama-era policy grants undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children the right to remain and work in the country legally. President Donald Trump in 2017 announced he was ending the program, leaving the futures of around 700,000 DACA recipients, also called “Dreamers," in limbo.
Martínez Domínguez has lived in the North Texas area for nearly 20 years. She signed up for DACA after it was launched in 2012 and is pursuing a graduate degree from the University of North Texas.
If the Trump administration had succeeded in rescinding the program, Martínez Domínguez said, she would not have moved back to where she was born. A small border town in Mexico, it’s a place she hardly knows. Instead, she would have relocated to a different country entirely.
“Just because in Mexico, there’s no way for me to survive,” Martínez Domínguez said.
Nearly 75% of Americans favor granting Dreamers legal status, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. More than half of the Republicans polled agreed that DACA recipients should stay.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. led the majority in the 5-4 decision, arguing that the way the Department of Homeland Security ended DACA was unlawful. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — both Trump appointees — joined justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas in the dissent.
DACA is safe for now, but its future remains uncertain, said Erika Andiola, chief advocacy officer for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. It’s important to remember that the ball is back in Trump’s court to craft a more legally sound argument for DACA’s termination, she said.
“We haven’t won the war by any means,” Andiola said, “but we have won a really big battle.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling directly affects the lives of thousands of undocumented immigrants living in the country, many of whom are Texas residents, Andiola said. Dallas and Houston are among the five U.S. cities with the greatest number of Dreamers, she added.
Texas is home to around 1.6 million unauthorized immigrants, or nearly 15% of the U.S.’s total undocumented population, according to the Pew Research Center.
In a Thursday press release, the American Civil Liberties Union praised the court’s decision. The organization also called for Trump and White House senior policy advisor Stephen Miller to “end their crusade” against immigrants.
“This decision allows DACA recipients to live and work without the daily fear of deportation, and confirms what we have always known: America is their home,” said Andrea Flores, the ACLU's deputy director of immigration policy.
But the court’s ruling drew criticism from those who argue former President Barack Obama abused his executive authority in creating the program. Speaking at the U.S. Senate Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz condemned the Supreme Court’s decision as “disgraceful.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also expressed his disappointment with the ruling in a statement on Thursday. He said he plans to continue fighting the issue in court.
Dallas immigration attorney Michael Presti is hopeful that if Trump or a future administration attempts to terminate DACA, it will again be blocked. Now, the case may be seen as a huge waste of time and resources.
If DACA were ever successfully repealed, however, Presti said the economy would take a massive hit. Hundreds of thousands of Dreamers are considered essential workers, and losing them would poke gaping holes in the economy, he added.
“[Dreamers are] an integral part of society,” Presti said. “You can’t just get rid of them.”
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Mariela Nuñez-Janes is an anthropology professor — or profe, as her undocumented students call her — at the University of North Texas. She said that the Supreme Court's decision is important because of its symbolic weight. It comes during a time when the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests are helping to dismantle racist policies.
Although the ruling is a significant one, much of North Texas’ undocumented population still lives in fear of being deported, Nuñez-Janes said. Dallas is an epicenter for immigrant detention centers, she added.
“I think [the decision] gives a little oxygen to those who have been shouldering the movement for immigrants’ rights for decades,” Nuñez-Janes said. “But of course, it is not a definitive answer about DACA itself, and certainly not a definitive answer for those who don’t qualify for DACA to begin with.”