DACA Decision Looms during the COVID-19 Pandemic
May 14, 2020
The Supreme Court’s upcoming decision over whether the President acted unlawfully in 2017 in abruptly terminating Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) hangs over our nation against the backdrop of an unprecedented global pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic introduces a host of new variables to consider, like the devastation of death to COVID-19, job losses, and ensuing economic, housing, and food insecurity being felt across the nation. Financial hardship is already more likely to strike those with limited access to paid sick leave, health care, and safety net programs like low-income people; immigrants; people of color; LGBTQ communities; and incarcerated and detained people. However, since the start of the outbreak, more than 40% of Latinx, and nearly a half of Black adults have said they won’t be able to pay some of their bills, compared to about a third of all Americans.
Yet, in the midst of a pandemic, the Supreme Court is still expected to issue a decision which could lead to a loss of work permits and protections from deportation for an estimated 650,000 DACA recipients living in the United States. The economic and social wellbeing of millions would fall precipitously as 650,000 DACA recipients reckon with the loss of their status and jobs during this time of uncertainty. About 254,000 U.S.-born children have at least one parent who holds DACA and in total, 1.5 million people live with a DACA recipient. Some DACA recipients, like Luz Chavez Gonzalez, have had to step up as sole providers for their families during widespread lay-offs — both of Luz’s parents, and her two siblings have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The pandemic spotlights Latinx families’ vulnerability to economic insecurity during emergencies.
Impact of COVID-19 on DACA Recipients and their Families
Nationwide, immigrant are overrepresented in nearly every industry supplying essential jobs and services. An estimated six million immigrant workers, including more than 200,000 DACA recipients, are working to keep U.S supermarkets stocked and residents healthy. Many states extended broad authority for many businesses considered essential to keep operating, but few have done enough to enforce state and federal workplace protections. As a result, thousands are getting sick on the job. Farmworkers, workers in the meat packing industry, and domestic workers who are immigrants have been some of the hardest hit. More and more evidence has emerged that Latinx COVID-19 health disparities stem from systemic inequities. Latinx people are more likely to have low-paying service jobs that require them to work through the pandemic; have limited access to health care; live in close quarters; and as a result, are less likely to call out of work or seek treatment when they fall ill.
This is, in no small part, the consequence of systematic and ongoing efforts to deny workplace protections and services to low-income and people of color based on immigration status. The implementation of the Trump administration’s public charge rule that went into effect on February 24, 2020 is a case in point. Researchers found that the rule would lead to a decline in the health and financial stability because of immigrant families’ fears over how their use of public benefits would affect their adjustment of status petitions. Now, the very worst possible outcomes of excluding immigrants from federal programs are playing out at the worst time.
Despite the pressing need for greater COVID-19 medical attention, immigrants were mostly left out of Congress’ COVID-19 relief packages. Immigrants were also left out of the CARES Act economic impact payments due to language prohibiting payments for households with ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) filers, a detail not gone unnoticed. An Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy analysis found that 4.3 million adults and 3.5 million children were denied this benefit through the ITIN exclusion. Future payments should remedy this exclusion.
For all these destabilizing factors raised, a SCOTUS decision on DACA in favor of the Trump administration would be catastrophic not just for DACA recipients, but the families they provide for and the broader immigrant community in the U.S.
DACA Recipients Urge Sensitivity
On March 27, plaintiffs from one of the three DACA cases up for consideration, Wolf, et al., v. Batalla Vidal, et al, appealed to the Supreme Court that Justices consider the full breadth of consequences stemming from a decision during the pandemic. They also flagged Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Matthew Albence’s alarming threats of imminent deportation: “If they get ordered removed, and DACA is done away with by the Supreme Court, we can actually effectuate those removal orders.” The Supreme Court accepted this filing by plaintiffs and it was entered into the official record in a small victory for DACA recipients.
In the lead up to a decision, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by immigrant’s rights activist also produced more evidence of a credible fear of DACA recipient’s information being used in immigration enforcement. Namely, the FOIA uncovered edited congressional testimony and a trail of emails showing that ICE had been dishonest about its unobstructed access to DACA information, like addresses and last known filing date. Thus, even as it appears that the country is entering in a protracted recession, DACA recipients now also have to navigate around this landmine decision with possible deportation attached.
Where applicable, DACA recipients are still encouraged to submit renewals. Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) has a stepped up to provide up to date information for DACA recipients needing to renew. Inquiries about whether to renew should always be made to legal practitioners. CLINIC’s legal resources are available here.
Act in Solidarity with Immigrant Communities
This administration has been very blunt about its prejudice against the poor, brown, and Black immigrants, therefore, it very unlikely it will do right by recognizing the contributions of immigrants during the pandemic. It falls our elected representatives to support COVID-19 relief for immigrants and protect DACA recipients through legislation.
The Supreme Court decision could come at any time between now and the end of June. Please sign our petition asking the Senate to pass legislation protecting Dreamers: #Faith4DACA petition. Help us show that justice-seekers support DACA recipients in this time of hardship for them and for the country that we share.