Late on Tuesday, a federal judge in San Francisco handed a victory to the undocumented young people known as Dreamers, by temporarily blocking Donald Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, while lawsuits over the decision are still being hashed out in court. Even though the decision by U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup is only a temporary injunction, the news was received as a major news event. Immigrant rights activists hope this will increase pressure on President Trump and Congress to work out a deal that would grant DACA recipients permanent legal status and a path to citizenship.
Next week Congress is expected to vote on a federal budget, and activists are demanding that any such bill should also provide permanent legal status to the Dreamers, who in most cases were brought to the United States as minors and may have no memory of living anywhere else. While Trump seems to have agreed to do exactly that, many activists are worried that the deal will fall apart before the Jan. 19 deadline.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that the urgency to get this done is not real or has changed in any way, because it is not true," Adrian Reyna, a DACA recipient who works with United We Dream, explained on a Wednesday press call. “We know that some are working towards a solution and that some others, like Stephen Miller at the White House, are trying to do everything they can to blow up a deal.
“Now is not the time for Democrats to step back. It’s time for them to step up," Reyna added. "The funding bill is a rare point of leverage," he continued, arguing that Democrats "must to commit to withholding their votes from the funding bill" unless it includes an updated or renewed version of the DREAM Act.
“This [court] decision only increases the pressure on Congress and on Trump to close the deal on DACA now, without delay," said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, during the same press call.
She argued that Trump's "disdain for judges" will cause him to "hasten his interest in trying to close the deal," because he won't want to let the courts have the final say over this matter.
In a press conference to celebrate his agency's court victory, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra concurred with Hincapié, saying this decision gives Democrats more leverage to tell the president, "Quit trying to load up a measure to fix DACA with this antiquated, nonsensical idea to build the border wall and all these other bad immigration ideas."
When Trump abruptly ended DACA in September, sending Attorney General Jeff Sessions before the cameras to deliver the bad news in almost gleeful fashion, it threw the lives of hundreds of thousands of people into chaos. They wondered if they were going to lose their jobs or be deported, often to countries where they may not even speak the language.
"Living life with this level of highs and lows is incredibly difficult," Reyna said about the experience. Relieving that anxiety has become an issue of utmost importance, which is why activists have been fanning out around Capitol Hill, personally pressuring every member of Congress member they can find.
“We’re seeing the executive branch and the Congress tossing the responsibility to each other back and forth," activist Angie Kim told Salon shortly after Trump's decision. "Frankly, a lot of the immigrant community and myself are just tired of it. We’re tired of being the bargaining chip and putting our lives on the line while these leaders of the country can’t really do the right thing.”
The existence of the DACA program is in itself the result of the many years of deadlock over the issue of what to do with undocumented immigrants who came here as children. For more than seven years, there have been efforts to pass a bill to protect these young people, but widespread hostility toward immigrants among many Republicans has derailed these attempts. To give these young people relief, Barack Obama created the DACA program in 2012, but it was always meant as a temporary fix until Congress came up with a more permanent solution.
That shouldn't be all that hard to do. Eighty-six percent of Americans say they want to let DACA recipients stay in the country, according to The Washington Post, meaning that even many of the Trump voters who ate up his anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric are willing to accept people who came here as minors.
The problem, unfortunately, is Trump himself. He seems too erratic and mercurial to manage the complex negotiations over this bill, as evidenced by the televised White House meeting on Tuesday. During that spectacle, Trump hastily agreed to support the Democratic version of the bill and had to be reminded by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy that he's supposed to be supporting a Republican version of the bill.
This is why Tuesday's court decision is such a big deal. Even though Alsup's injunction is only temporary, he seemed supportive of arguments made by California's attorneys that Trump's decision to rescind DACA had violated federal law that prohibits changing regulations for "arbitrary and capricious" reasons.
“I think Donald Trump was one of our better witnesses in helping us prove that the administration handled the DACA program the wrong way," Becerra joked, noting that his team had included a number of public comments from Trump to demonstrate the capricious nature of his decision.
Because of this, there's reason to believe the courts may strike down Trump's decision to end DACA, saving the program indefinitely. Activists hope that rather than allowing that to happen, Trump will allow some kind of deal to be struck that grants permanent status to DACA recipients. Unfortunately, in a press conference Wednesday, it appeared that Trump may continue injecting himself into negotiations by demanding that "any solution has to include the wall," referring to the border wall he repeatedly promised to build during his presidential campaign. As has become customary in Washington over the past year, the president's chaotic, counterproductive behavior could very well derail the entire process.