The Supreme Court’s decision to block President Donald Trump’s 2017 order ending a program protecting hundreds of thousands of immigrants from deportation left some Iowans feeling excited and encouraged.
The program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was established by President Barack Obama in a June 2012 presidential memorandum.
It allows some people brought to the United States as children with an undocumented status to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and be allowed to legally work in the United States. Obama began the program after Congress failed to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act that would have provided similar protections. The people affected by DACA or the DREAM Act commonly are referred to as “DREAMers.”
With hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients across the country and thousands in Iowa alone, some reactions to the Supreme Court decision were highly personal.
Fatima Arellano, a DREAMer from Denison who has lived there since she was 5 years old, said it left her feeling “absolutely super happy.”
“Not just for myself, but for every individual out there who has DACA, because I know how it feels having this amazing program and then having it expire,” she said.
Alma Puga, the president of LULAC Denison, that city’s chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said she had been worried about the decision but did not want to live in fear and left it to the judges. She also called for a legislative fix to the issue.
“I feel we need a permanent solution to this problem; otherwise, it’s just going to get tossed around,” she said. “If Trump gets re-elected, I’m sure he’s going to end it. He’s going to go through the legal process and end it in the legal way.”
The president took to Twitter to rail against the decision, writing the decisions coming from the Supreme Court are “horrible and politically charged,” adding they are “shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives.
“We need more Justices or will lose our 2nd Amendment and everything else,” he wrote. “Vote Trump 2020!”
In later tweets, Trump called for new Supreme Court justices and again referred to the decision in this case as “political.”
While many political responses came in afterward with regard to the court’s decision, its impact was immediate and real for many people far from Washington.
“The DACA program has opened many doors for those who have qualified like myself,” said Monica Reyes, co-founder and president of DREAM Iowa, a group focused on educating and lifting immigrants out of generational poverty. “I’m excited for all of the young undocumented Iowans that will now be able to apply for the first time and all of the opportunities that will come to them through this program. Nevertheless, the program was designed to leave our hard-working parents and family in the shadows.”
DACA does not protect all undocumented immigrants. Only those who came to the United States before the age of 16 and were no older than 30, had lived in the country for at least the previous five years, were in school, had graduated from high school or received a G.E.D. or were an honorably discharged veteran were eligible to apply.
“It has created internal divisions within the family structure and the U.S. government must honor family values, and maintain the immigrant family nucleus together,” Reyes said. “We will utilize this win as fuel to keep working towards a more permanent solution for our undocumented community. The Supreme Court has demonstrated to our nation that our president’s capricious decisions will not be tolerated and that the president has to take responsibility for his actions. This is a big win for undocumented Iowans.”
Murphy Burke, Iowa press secretary for NextGen America, said the decision is good news for DACA recipients but added that they should not have had to wait on the court to decide the case.
“They shouldn’t have been waiting on it to see if the court would defend something that they were told was a given right eight years ago when Obama made DACA happen,” she said. “So it’s unfortunate that it had to come to this, but we’re glad that the court stood on the right side in their decision.”
The Democratic nominee in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, J.D. Scholten, called the decision very surprising but also “very encouraging.”
“I personally feel that we shouldn’t leave this up to the courts, that we should pass legislation,” he said. “There’s so many people that are affected by this, especially here in Iowa and in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District … the previous administration had made a promise to these people, and we shouldn’t go back on that promise, and we should give the protection that was promised to them.”
Reyes said there needs to be further immigration reform in the wake of this decision.
“At the federal level, we need a smarter and more efficient and more transparent immigration system that focuses on upholding our American values and boosting our economy,” she said. “At the local level, in the state of Iowa, I would like to see some reforms. For example, in the state of Iowa, if you are taken to one of the county jails, as you are being checked in, you have to say if you are an American citizen and if you say you are not — the local police runs an ICE check, and if ICE flags you, if you’re undocumented, basically, then the local police are obligated to hold immigrants for 72 hours for ICE to come and pick them up.”
When SF 481 was signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds in 2018, it required Iowa county sheriffs to comply with ICE detainer requests. These requests ask sheriffs to hold detained suspected undocumented persons for a further 48 hours after their scheduled release to investigate their immigration status.
“We need to replace that piece of legislation with something that will truly help our Iowa communities, like driver’s licenses, and professional licenses for undocumented immigrants,” Reyes said.
Burke also spoke of additional immigration reform.
“One of the big issues that this decision didn’t do is offer a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, which is something that they’ve been calling for for years,” Burke said. “And it has bipartisan support as well, so that will continue to be a salient issue and will be something that you know both of Iowa’s senators haven’t voted to support, and we’ll be pushing them to do so and hopefully electing new people if they won’t.”
Scholten, a Sioux City Democrat, echoed those calls for reforms, expressing support for the DREAM Act that Congress repeatedly has declined to advance.
“I think there’s no doubt that we need to have secure borders, but where we need to go from there: we need to pass the DREAM Act, we need a pathway for people who are working here to have a pathway to residency and a pathway to citizenship for folks who want to earn the right to become American citizens,” Scholten said. “I think the other part of it, too, is our visa program is broken and it doesn’t match the needs of a district like this district; it’s more meant for people on the coasts.”
Scholten noted the last time Congress passed a sweeping immigration bill was in 1986, adding reform is “long overdue.” He also pointed to the large numbers of international students at American universities who are required to leave after graduation, and the economic benefits reform could bring.
“We encourage and we fund all these international students at these universities and then at the time of graduation we tell them, ‘You’re no longer welcome here,’ because of our laws and our immigration system,” he said. “And so here are people who are graduating from technology and want to start a company and innovate, and we’re kicking them out of the country, and so they’re going to start that company elsewhere, and that’s hurting our economy.”
Reyes said she will continue to further advocate for immigrants.
“I have godchildren that had been really saddened with our government’s inability to pass some sort of legislation that would include them into a program that would allow them to be shielded from deportation and provided the same opportunities that I have been provided with, and so on a very personal level, I am very excited for the younger generation that had been left out of the program,” Reyes said. “At the same time, as a person I am going to utilize this momentum and this positive energy to advocate for people like my mom. My mom is undocumented and has no sort of status, and at this time no sort of legislation at the state or federal level has been championed for immigrants like her.
“So I’m profoundly happy for our undocumented youth, but at the same time we have to utilize this energy to advocate for our whole community.”