‘I know my path:’ With Supreme Court’s DACA decision, central Pa. teen future looks to a bright and safe future

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 18: DACA recipients and their supporters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on June 18, 2020 in Washington, DC. On Thursday morning, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, denied the Trump administration's attempt to end DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

(*This story was clarified on 6/22/20 to correct a timing detail on the Trump administration’s decision to shut down the DACA program)

When she woke up on Thursday morning, 17-year-old Arlette Morales pulled on a “Home is Here” t-shirt. She didn’t know how prophetic it was.

Hours later, Morales, who was two years old when her parents brought her to the United States from Mexico, learned that the U.S. Supreme Court salvaged an Obama-era program that has allowed hundreds of thousands of young, unauthorized immigrants — just like her — known as “Dreamers” to remain in the country without immediate fear of deportation.

Morales, a rising senior at Logos Academy, a Christian school in York, Pa., was aware the decision was coming, but, busy with other things, including organizing a Black Lives Matter protest in her hometown, had put it out of her mind. That all changed when she got a text message from Laila Martin, an official with the immigrant rights group CASA.

“I was like, ‘Hold up. This is something that affects me,” she told the Capital-Star. “I had my ‘Home is Here,’ t-shirt on. It was the first I one grabbed. It was a coincidence. But I see a vision for my life. I feel so much relief.”

On Thursday, in a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice Roberts sided with the court’s liberal wing in finding that the Trump administration broke the law in 2017 when it rescinded the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

Roberts wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The court 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.

“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” Roberts wrote. “‘The wisdom’ of those decisions ‘is none of our concern.’

Arlette Morales (L) of York, Pa., and her best friend, Tzipporah Goins, at a recent Black Lives Matter protest they organized (Arlette Morales, photo)

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 appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner.”

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 ruling will likely inflame partisan tensions ahead of the 2020 presidential contest. It comes days after the court issued an unexpected ruling protecting LGBTQ workers from job discrimination.

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Immigration advocates welcomed the decision.

“In this moment in history, we should not overlook the valiant contributions Dreamers have made to America’s communities, culture and economy,” Sergio Gonzales, deputy director of the advocacy group, the Immigration Hub, said in a statement. As the country faces a pandemic, approximately 202,500 Dreamers are working on the frontlines to save lives and keep our essential industries running. Every day, Dreamers remind us they are part of what we aspire to be as a nation.

“This ruling is a huge victory, but this fight is not over. The Court ruled that the process the Administration used to end DACA was illegal, which means the program is still threatened by Trump and Stephen Miller,” Gonzales continued.” “As if the stakes in the upcoming election couldn’t be higher, this November is now also about DACA and ensuring Dreamers are permanently protected.”

The DACA program was created in 2012 to allow certain immigrants who arrived in the United States before age 16 to apply for temporary protection from deportation and work permits.

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About 700,000 people have participated in the program, according to the court. A 2017 survey of DACA recipients found that nearly all respondents were either employed or in school, according to the Center for American Progress.

President Donald Trump vowed on the campaign trail to “end” the program. His administration made good on his promise in 2017, but lower courts blocked the decision from taking effect.

The administration could try to end the program again, the court noted. If it does, it will have to do so in a way that complies with federal law governing such decisions.

Last June, the U.S. House passed legislation that would safeguard the program and provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. The bill has not been taken up in the U.S. Senate.

Speaking to the Capital-Star Thursday, Morales said she turned 15 years old last September 22, 2017*. The Trump White House shut down the DACA program on Sept 5, a little more than two weeks earlier. But thanks to the ruling, Morales now qualifies for the program.

And as she starts her senior year, she said that knowing that she’s safe makes it easier to plan for the future.

“The day it got shutdown was really heartbreaking, not just for me, but thousands of families around the country,” she said. “Especially going into my junior year, where you start planning for the future. I never knew if things would work out. I know the path I want to take, and now I can say that confidently.”