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How DREAMers Defeated Trump: Supreme Court DACA Win Shows “Sustained Pressure of Activism” Works

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Image Credit: Reuters / Mike Blake

In a 5-4 decision led by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court on Thursday blocked President Trump’s attempt to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The federal program created by President Obama in 2012 protects from deportation about 700,000 immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. Luis Cortes, one of the lawyers who defended DACA at the Supreme Court, says the key to the victory was being able to share the stories of DACA recipients. “What moved Chief Justice Roberts in our case was the stories,” says Cortes, who is a DACA recipient himself. We also speak with Erika Andiola, advocacy chief at RAICES, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and host of the podcast “Homeland Insecurity.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In a massive win for immigrant rights, the Supreme Court has ruled against President Trump’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects nearly 700,000 immigrants from deportation. In 2017, Trump tried to end DACA, which was created by President Obama in 2012. But in a 5-to-4 decision Thursday, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court concluded Trump’s move to end DACA was “arbitrary and capricious.”

The decision follows the court’s ruling Monday barring workplace discrimination against LGBTQ people and prompted Trump to tweet, quote, “Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?” unquote. Trump called the decisions, quote, “shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives,” and wrote, quote, “We need more Justices or we will lose our 2nd Amendment & everything else. Vote Trump 2020!” unquote. Trump can still try to end DACA in other ways, based on the court’s narrow ruling, but that could alienate voters in key election battleground states.

Meanwhile, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden issued a statement Thursday promising to send a bill to Congress on his first day in office that, quote, “creates a clear roadmap to citizenship for Dreamers and 11 million undocumented people who are already strengthening our nation,” he said.

For now, DACA recipients are still protected from deportation and have authorization to work in the United States.

For more, we’re joined in Seattle by one of the lawyers who defended DACA in the Supreme Court. Luis Cortes is an attorney with the Immigrant Advocacy & Litigation Center. He’s also a DACA recipient himself. Also with us, in Phoenix, Arizona, Erika Andiola, advocacy chief at RAICES, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, host of the podcast Homeland Insecurity.

Well, let’s go to you first, Luis. Congratulations on your victory, on this victory for the United States. Luis Cortes, what was it like to be in the Supreme Court? And explain the court’s decision.

LUIS CORTES: [inaudible] where we had hundreds of people there.

AMY GOODMAN: Luis, if you could begin again? I’m sorry. We just got your mic on.

LUIS CORTES: Oh, not a problem. I’m so sorry about that. Good morning, and thank you for having me on.

You know, one of the things that I recall vividly about the day of the Supreme Court arguments was actually right before entering the Supreme Court and the hundreds of people that were outside demonstrating on behalf and in support of not just DACA, but broader immigration protection, because it reminded me of what got us DACA to begin with, which was a sustained pressure of activism to get us protection against deportation.

So, being able to share the stories with the Supreme Court justices, I think, was very, very important with the case, because, ultimately, that seemed what moved Chief Justice Roberts in our case, was the stories, and we see that throughout his opinion.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain exactly what this ruling says.

LUIS CORTES: Yeah, so, the ruling really strikes down President Trump’s decision to terminate DACA on a procedural ground. He’s not saying that he can’t do the program — or, he can’t end the program. He’s saying that the way in which he ultimately terminated the program was unlawful. So, he can come and now terminate the program following the Administrative Procedure Act; however, we know that that’s going to take some time. It’s going to take him into the November election. And what he ultimately would have to do, if he was going to do it again, is terminate a program that is overwhelmingly supported by the American people, during a pandemic, and justify his reasons doing so. And I think that people are going to make some decisions come November if he decides to do so again.

AMY GOODMAN: So, would you describe this as a narrow ruling? And what exactly does it mean, in terms of can people apply today for DACA?

LUIS CORTES: Well, it’s a narrow ruling in that it terminates his decision to end DACA. And so, it will restore the program. Now, the timeline is something that we still need to see how it plays out. The Department of Homeland Security has had some very strong words against the decision, but nothing concrete yet in terms of the actual mechanics of how it’s going to work. We know that they’re going to have to comply with the court order, but the timing of it is still left to be seen, and so we’re going to have to wait to see some agency guidance on that. And so, we’ll wait to see in the next few days to see what they say.

AMY GOODMAN: This is not only a significant national victory for you, and you are part of the team that argued the case before the Supreme Court. You, yourself, are a DACA recipient. Can you talk about that?

LUIS CORTES: Yeah. You know, one of the things that we set out to do here in the case was, we know that the state of California and the UC regents played a very important role in helping us crack the case, but we wanted to make sure that the stories of the DACA recipients, who our lives were the ones who were impacted by this, are told to the — not just the justices, but the judges who were deciding the case initially. It was such an honor to be able to help represent the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients. But we’re not just talking about the DACA recipients. We’re talking about them and their communities. It’s teachers and their students, doctors and their patients, lawyers and their clients. We’re talking about millions of people here. And for someone like me who has really learned to, as a lawyer, trust the American court system to do the just thing, it was really a great honor to be involved in this case.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about your own personal story? It also seems that Chief Justice Roberts was particularly moved by individuals’ stories.

LUIS CORTES: Yeah. So, I was born in Mexico, and I came to the United States when I was about 1 year old. And I grew up in California, and so I consider myself a California guy. And really, my life — and I think this is a common experience for a lot of people who are undocumented — is a series of events of trying to — I knew that I was undocumented from a young age, but I was figuring out what that really meant throughout the course of my life — the limitations that are there, the types of restrictions that we have, either from not getting driver’s licenses or not being able to apply for financial aid.

So, really, that stemmed all the way up into my adult life, when I was in law school. I went to law school before there was DACA, and I knew that it might prohibit me from being able to practice law. And it wasn’t until my last year in law school that DACA came out. And so, the timing couldn’t have been better, and it’s one of the things that allowed me to really advocate for other clients.

And so, I am so grateful that, you know, we had a lot of the young activists early on that pushed President Obama to protect — stop the deportations of young people. Now, it’s not a perfect solution. Obviously, we would want protection for all of the undocumented community here. But it was a good step in the right direction.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Erika Andiola into this, of RAICES. You, too, a DACA recipient, can you talk about what your reaction was yesterday when you heard the news?

ERIKA ANDIOLA: Oh my god! I mean, I was really surprised. I honestly was not expecting this. Unlike Luis, I wasn’t in the ins and outs of the case. I was just really pessimistic because of the court makeup, and I was really gearing up for something negative. And I woke up really early to hear that, you know, this was — this was great news.

And, you know, just I was really proud. I was feeling really proud, because, you know, I tweeted — I tweeted, you know, basically, the first thing that came out of my mind was we pushed Obama, and we defeated Trump in court. I mean, this is all because of movement building, of organizing, of the courage of millions of people, I mean, DACA recipients and even some of our family members, who have come out and said, “We’re undocumented and unafraid.” We took the step to come out of the shadows, you know, in 2009, 2010, and some people even before that, and it’s been worth it. It paid off.

I was feeling really proud in the morning, and also understanding that, you know, we’re a bigger community. Our family members, our community members are also struggling. But, as Luis said, it is a step in the right direction, and it’s something that we have to celebrate. And then we have to keep fighting for more.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to Trump’s tweet and then what Vice President Biden said, the former vice president, who is running for president against Trump, of course? Trump said this is a “shotgun blast in the face,” and he asked if the Supreme Court likes him anymore. And Biden talked about what he would do on his first day in office. Your response to both, Erika?

ERIKA ANDIOLA: I mean, on the Trump side, you know, I think he — it didn’t work out for him. What he wanted to do was to use DACA recipients as a bargaining chip to try to get his anti-immigrant agenda enacted. And we saw this since the very beginning. In 2017, when he took the program away, the first thing he said, you know, “I have a great heart” for DREAMers — I mean, I still remember the phrase that he used — because he thought that, you know, by taking away the program and then taking it back to Congress and saying, you know, “If you want to support and you want to help DACA recipients, then here’s everything that I want to do with asylum. This is everything that I want to do to cut immigration and get people who I don’t want out of the country.” And so, you know, it didn’t work out for him. And, you know, again, we won. We won against him in court, which is really incredible.

And, you know, on Biden, I understand that there is a need right now to talk about legislation in Congress, and we want Congress to act. But it is important, because we all saw what happened with Obama in — you know, when he was running in 2008, that he was talking about doing immigration reform the first day in office, and he didn’t do it. And he deported 3 million people or more. And so, what we want to hear also from Biden is what is he going to do to undo everything that the Obama administration and the Trump administration have done with the deportation machine, and that he can, in day one, do so much with executive power. And so, we’re hoping that not only is he talking about that and he’s talking about policy, but also that he actually does it, if he’s elected as president.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Erika, talk about what this means for you on the ground. You’re a DACA recipient. I attended your virtual news conference yesterday as you talked about your mother being in deportation proceedings. Can you talk about that and other cases you’re focused on right now?

ERIKA ANDIOLA: Yeah. I mean, you know, I think it’s a big relief for me. It’s a big relief for my little brother, who — you know, we are able to work right now. We’re able to be safe from deportation. But it’s also painful to still experience our family members — you know, my mom is in deportation proceedings. My house was raided in 2013, right after I had gotten my DACA for the first time.

And so, you know, this is a bigger fight. We are fighting right now, you know, to abolish ICE. And we say this all the time, but this is the perfect time for Congress — you know, as we’re talking about defunding the police, that has to happen, too. We’re standing in solidarity with that ask from the Black Lives Matter movement. We want that to happen. And we’re also asking for, you know, ICE to be defunded, as well, as a first step to abolish it. And I think right now even Democrats can do that right now in the House. It is time to start taking money away from a deportation force that is taking our own family members. Even though we’re protected, a lot of — you know, more than 11 million people in this country are not. They’re still vulnerable, like my mom.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Luis Cortes, United We Dream tweeted, “Supreme Court has said new applications must be accepted, but DHS” — the Department of Homeland Security — “has NOT confirmed they are accepting them yet.” What should people do at this point, with this major Supreme Court ruling?

LUIS CORTES: I think the people need to get ready. The initial applications, you know, there are a lot of paperwork you need to show. There’s a lot of evidence that you need to show for initial applications. So, we know that there was a mini-generation that was left out of the DACA program who are now graduating from high school or maybe have already graduated from high school. And so, get your documents ready, would be my very first suggestion. It takes some time. You know, most of the time, DACA applications cannot be prepared in one day, and so get everything ready so that when the agency provides some guidance as to when they’re going to accept applications, which should be soon, then they’ll be ready to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Luis Cortes, we want to thank you for being with us, and congratulations, Immigrant Advocacy & Litigation Center, DACA recipient, argued — was part of the team that argued the case before the Supreme Court; and Erika Andiola, who is advocacy head of RAICES and has just launched the podcast Homeland Insecurity.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll talk about this day, and this day in history, Juneteenth. Stay with us.

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