Unions fight for DACA recipients as Supreme Court tackles their fate
Demonstrators begin rallying in front of the Supreme Court on the morning of Nov. 12, 2019. | MoveOn via Twitter

AUSTIN, Texas—“P.V.,” an assistant county attorney in Austin, Texas, knows many facets of the immigration issue, and particularly about the “Dreamers.”

P.V., you see, is an AFSCME member, and a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In other words, he too is a Dreamer.

Now his fate, and that of the 800,000 other DACA recipients, rests with the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices tackled their future in oral arguments on Nov. 12.

President Donald Trump terminated DACA in Sept. 2017. Lower courts backed the Dreamers, keeping them in the country for now. That didn’t stop Trump, though. He’s taken his campaign against them to the High Court.

As the justices quizzed lawyers for more than an hour inside the Supreme Court building in D.C., the Dreamers ended a caravan from New York and elsewhere with a rally outside, braving downpours and possible snow. Other rallies on the way occurred Nov. 8. Progressive groups from MoveOn.org to Jobs With Justice joined in on the 12th.

Their point: To remind the justices that the Dreamers are U.S. residents who know no other country but this one. They’re committed to staying and contributing to the U.S., raising their families, paying taxes, going to college, and serving in the military and as nurses, social workers, lawyers and more. One, now a doctor, even played NFL football.

The unions made that point in their briefs. So did the marchers. All assert Trump has no right to evict them from the U.S., or push them into the underground economy.

But the fear of Trump’s legions, particularly of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents swooping down without warning to arrest and deport Dreamers, led the unions—AFSCME, the Service Employees, and the AFL-CIO—to file briefs to use only the initials, not the names, of Dreamers they cited as examples.

“As a dedicated public servant and an AFSCME Local 1624 member, P.V. spends his workdays as a criminal prosecutor protecting public safety by handling all sorts of traffic-related criminal cases from running red lights to DWIs,” they explained.

P.V.’s parents eventually became legal permanent residents. His father’s now a bartender and his mother is a licensed massage therapist. But by the time they got their “green cards,” P.V.’s eligibility for a card, as their son, had run out after he turned 18.

Then, Democratic President Barack Obama crafted DACA in late 2012, creating “prosecutorial discretion” to have the government not pursue and not deport Dreamers, all brought to the U.S., as undocumented kids. They could come out of the shadows and, if they have no criminal record, pay $495 yearly, for the right to legally stay in the U.S., two years at a time. P.V. did. So did the others, especially in blue states: Six of every 10 Dreamers live in California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois.

P.V. graduated from high school a decade ago and from the University of Texas’ main campus in Austin four years later, with high honors, the unions’ friend-of-the-court brief notes. He graduated from law school and passed the bar.

Being a DACA recipient lets him “be a dedicated public servant and prosecuting attorney today. Without DACA, he would not be eligible to do the work he does every day for Travis County.” As the first college grad and professional in his family, P.V. knows that “without DACA, he would be unemployable in most workplaces.’

“With it, P.V. can do the job he loves, and contribute to the economy and his community by supporting himself, paying taxes, and contributing to the county retirement plan. He also knows that without DACA his community would suffer dire consequences. P.V.’s experience as a prosecutor taught him that without legal status, many immigrants, fearing deportation, refuse to report crimes or avoid testifying when they are victims of assaults and other crimes for fear of deportation,” the brief adds.

“P.V. wants to continue to be a positive agent of change in the criminal justice system,” but cannot do so without DACA. It let him go to college, law school, and work.

The other Dreamers are just like P.V., helping their families and their communities, caring for others as doctors and nurses and teachers, earning income—91% are employed, all out of the shadows right now—and contributing to society.

Trump wants to shove P.V. and others out of the country, the unions say. And his abrupt termination of DACA, with no hearings or notice, forcing its beneficiaries to leave when their papers expire, was illegal, they add.

They also add, again countering Trump, that DACA itself is not illegal. That’s because “prosecutorial discretion” on who to let into the country has run through both the history of U.S. immigration and immigration law for more than a century, they note.

Congress could solve the problem by legalizing the Dreamers and other undocumented people. With strong union support, United We Dream, the main organization which staged the rally, has campaigned for that goal for years. As the group notes, the Democratic run-House agrees. But the Senate, cowed by Trump and GOP nativists, hasn’t. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has pigeonholed the bill, just as he has done with other House-passed legislation.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).