Dalton’s Christian Olvera and Jaime Rangel are among the 21,000 young undocumented immigrants living in Georgia celebrating a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Thursday that allows them to remain in the country without immediate fear of deportation.
The court’s 5-4 decision salvages the Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the court’s liberal wing in finding that the Trump administration illegally rescinded the program in 2017.
For Olvera and Rangel, the ruling is a landmark legal win and affirmation of growing public support for the country’s 700,000 so-called Dreamers. The two men, brought from Mexico into the United States when they were young, knew their future ability to stay in America for now hinged on the Supreme Court’s decision.
Olvera, 28, and Rangel, 29, both grew up in Dalton, where many Mexican immigrants contribute to the mill workforce in the “Carpet Capital of the World.”
After graduating from a public high school in Whitfield County, both entered Dalton State College, where they paid significantly higher tuition than their former classmates.
Today, Rangel and Olvera advocate for pro-immigration policies through the nonprofit Fwd.us., pressing for reforms from the Georgia state Capitol to Washington, D.C.
“When you think of the bigger picture, we may just see ourselves as one (DACA) recipient or two in a family, but we carry our households,” said Olvera, who works in imaging at a textile mill and has other jobs while taking classes at Dalton State. “We carry our parents, we carry our uncles that are off the grid, and they depend on a lot of DACA recipients.”
“So the anxiety is exponential when it comes to waiting for a decision like this,” Olvera said.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, and immigration advocates across the country, emphasized the need for federal reform that includes a permanent solution for DACA recipients and others.
“Many immigrant workers are considered ‘essential workers’ during the pandemic and we must ensure they are able to stay here as well,” said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. “As we reimagine the kind of America we want to become, and as we fight to make our country stronger and more just, we should look to DREAMers and work with them on realizing our shared future.”
Thursday’s court ruling held that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s decision to end the program was “arbitrary and capricious” and therefore in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.
Roberts wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” Roberts wrote. “‘The wisdom’ of those decisions is none of our concern.”
But the department, he said, “failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients. That dual failure raises doubts about whether the agency reasonably exercised that discretion, Roberts wrote.
Justice Clarence Thomas called the ruling “mystifying” in a dissenting opinion. “Today’s decision must be recognized for what it is: an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision,” he wrote.
The Center for American Progress declared the ruling a victory for millions of people concerned about having their lives upended.
“By rejecting the Trump administration’s illegal attempt to end DACA, the Supreme Court provided a critical measure of relief to DACA recipients and their families at a time when they — like all Americans — are experiencing significant fear and uncertainty as a result of the coronavirus pandemic,” Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for American Progress, said in a statement.
A renewed push for in-state tuition
Some state universities won’t admit DACA recipients at all, while the other colleges in the University System of Georgia charge them expensive out-of-state tuition. The bill, sponsored by Dalton Republican state Rep. Kasey Carpenter, missed the crucial Crossover Deadline in March after the higher education committee chairman declined to let the panel vote because of the uncertain outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Carpenter, a Dalton restaurant owner, said Thursday that he hopes the Supreme Court decision sways some minds in time for similar legislation to pass during next year’s session.
“I think this gives us even more support than we had before,” Carpenter said. “We had a lot of people on the fence based on this Supreme Court decision. We didn’t want to get out in front of the courts and waste everybody’s time.”
Rangel said the next push in federal immigration reform is to pass the Dream and Promise Act of 2019 to give DACA recipients a legal pathway to U.S. citizenship. The Democratic-controlled U.S. House passed the legislation last year with support from a few Republicans, but the GOP-controlled Senate didn’t act on it and President Donald Trump threatened to veto it.
“Today’s ruling is going to continue to empower us to work with Congress, to work with legislators, to work with community leaders for that legislative push that will allow us to be in this country peacefully and be proud to be called U.S. citizens,” Rangel said.