I have been studying and working in law for 70 years, and based on those decades of experience, I fear that the Supreme Court’s decision in the DACA cases, expected later this week, will test the public’s belief that law and justice intersect in America.
Legal scholars might well scoff at such a dramatic prediction, considering that the cases involve the interpretation of the esoteric Administrative Procedure Act (Ambien for law students), and that no matter the Court’s decision, it could be supplanted immediately or eventually by either the executive or legislative branches. But the Court’s verdict, no matter how fleeting, could have a profound effect on respect for the rule of law, particularly because it comes so closely on the heels of the heartless ruling on the Wisconsin election, which forced citizens to choose between protecting their lives and exercising their constitutional right to vote.
My concern requires a step back to consider what and who is involved here. The recipients of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) policy were children brought to the U.S., many by their parents. Despite the president’s characterization of Mexican immigrants in general, I suspect that very few 5-year-olds were “bringing drugs, bringing crime” with them, or were “rapists.” By virtue of their age, few knowingly violated the laws of the United States when they came here; they were the most innocent of lawbreakers. As a result, the Obama administration decided to afford them protection from deportation, and to give them opportunities that they so clearly deserved.
The country, in return, has received countless benefits from their presence here. Dreamers, as DACA recipients are called, have contributed to every aspect of American society—education, research, business, charitable works. And, as The Washington Post has pointed out, an estimated 29,000 DACA recipients are health-care practitioners fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Their importance to society is reflected in the amicus briefs filed with the Court from every segment and region of the nation, pleading for continuance of the policy.
The effect that revoking DACA will have upon its recipients is not some figment of the imaginations of bleeding-heart liberals, but involves one of the crucial issues in the cases—the reliance by hundreds of thousands of young people on the promises made, the assurances given, and the personal details disclosed that placed them in jeopardy. Although significant numbers are unlikely to be deported if revocation is upheld, that sword of Damocles will hang over all of them, their status in limbo and the benefits once gained now denied.
In the background of this litigation is the question: Why would the current administration want to destroy the lives of close to a million people—and their families and all who need them—who have done nothing wrong, who have contributed so much, and who are necessary to the country’s future prosperity? If the purpose is deterrence, no future children are eligible to participate in DACA, and wasn’t tearing children from the arms of their parents and placing them in cages deterrence enough? Confidence in the justness of law is at stake here.
The Supreme Court has the opportunity in these cases to prove to the country that despite all the hardships that surround us, humanity is not dead, cruelty does not rule the day, and compassion and empathy have not passed from the lexicon.