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The History Of The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Policy


Today's Supreme Court ruling comes almost exactly eight years after President Obama first announced the DACA program. Standing in the White House Rose Garden, he talked about young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children and who don't remember any home but the U.S.


BARACK OBAMA: They pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one - on paper.

KELLY: DACA was immediately attacked by immigration hardliners as an illegal amnesty program. But it has survived multiple legal challenges, and since it launched, DACA has allowed more than 800,000 immigrants to work and study without fear of deportation. NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration. He is here now to talk about how we got to this moment. Hi, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So let's trace the history. Take me back to 2012 and the reasons President Obama had for creating DACA in the first place.

ROSE: Right. Well, these young immigrants, who are sometimes also referred to as DREAMers, had been lobbying for more than a decade to get some kind of legal status in the U.S. And President Obama was under a lot of pressure to do something. At the same time, he was coming under fire from immigrants and their allies on the left for deporting hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants, so much so that he got the nickname deporter-in-chief. And so in the summer of 2012, his Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued a short memo creating DACA.

KELLY: And as I mentioned, immigration hardliners hated it from the get-go. What about immigrants?

ROSE: It was enormously popular with immigrants almost immediately. I went to a church in New York City on the first day that people could sign up for DACA, and people were lined up around the block to get free legal help to sign up. And still even then, though, there were concerns about what would happen in a future administration if it tried to end DACA because these young immigrants were coming out of the shadows - right? - and they were giving their addresses and other personal information to the federal government. Here's a young woman I talked to named Nathalia Narciso.

NATHALIA NARCISO: I'm worried, but at the same time, I - you know, it's a risk that we got to take, and I'm willing to take it.

ROSE: And of course, as history has shown, they were right to be worried.

KELLY: So fast-forward from that moment to 2017, fall of 2017. Donald Trump is now President Trump. Jeff Sessions is his attorney general, and Sessions comes out and announces DACA is going to end. They're going to rescind it. Why? What was the Trump administration rationale?

ROSE: Well, Donald Trump campaigned on ending DACA, even though he did sometimes also sympathize with the DREAMers. But as Attorney General Jeff Sessions said flat-out that DACA is illegal. It was a big overreach, he argued, by the Obama administration to just decide unilaterally that such a large group of people are outside the reach essentially of immigration law. So the acting homeland security secretary in 2017, Elaine Duke, writes another short memo to rescind the DACA program. And immigration advocates immediately sue. They go to court arguing that the Trump administration ended DACA in a way that was arbitrary and capricious. And today, a majority of the Supreme Court agreed.

KELLY: Using that very same term, the judicial term. So what does this history tell us about where we may be headed? What may be next for DACA?

ROSE: Well, I think we're in for more legal challenges - right? - more of the same. Remember; the Supreme Court did not settle the question of DACA's legality. So the administration could take another stab at ending the program if it follows a more formal rulemaking process. And there are people who are advocating for it to do just that. Here's Jessica Vaughan at the Center for Immigration Studies. It's a nonprofit in Washington that advocates for lower levels of immigration.

JESSICA VAUGHAN: What Trump should do is say, look; this program is still as illegal as it was on the day it was issued in 2012, so I'm going to try to wind it down again. We're going to go through the process that the court has laid out for us.

ROSE: And at the same time, there is another legal challenge that's pending. A group of state attorneys general led by Texas have challenged DACA in federal court. That case was put on hold while this case has been before the U.S. Supreme Court. Today, the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, said that case will press forward. Of course, DACA recipients know this is not the end of the legal battle. They are ready to continue their fight too.

KELLY: Thank you, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome.

KELLY: NPR's Joel Rose.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEA GIRLS SONG, "DAISY DAISY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.