Sometimes it pays to step back from the heat of partisan battle and ask, exactly, what folks are fighting about.
Such is the case with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA. Put in place by President Obama, the program allows certain undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to work here lawfully. It’s not a path to citizenship, and anyone who has committed a serious crime isn’t eligible.
In the absence of action by the U.S. Congress to fix this country’s broken immigration system, DACA was a modest and humane step by a modest and humane president. Naturally, it then met an arch-enemy in an egotistical and callous president: Donald Trump.
Trump has been determined throughout his term by undoing his predecessor’s accomplishments, no matter the damage to the United States or its reputation. His administration withdrew from international treaties and tinkered with a host of regulations — and it targeted DACA. But in doing so, in a rushed and apparently capricious way, it ran afoul of the Supreme Court.
On Thursday, in a 5-4 ruling, the court ruled that Trump hadn’t followed the rules in ending the program. DACA can stay in place for now, and some 700,000 "Dreamers" no longer face the threat of deportation.
But the victory is far from sweeping.
"We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. "We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action."
In other words, the Trump administration can try again to end the program in a more thorough, reasoned way. Whether it will attempt to do so in the run-up to a bitterly contested general election is difficult to know. Little would surprise those who have followed Trump’s bombastic, unpredictable term.
What’s bizarre is that no one appears to actually want to deport the Dreamers. Trump tried to use the program’s survival as leverage to enact other immigration restrictions. Democrats wanted to expand who qualified for the program. Neither side got what they hoped for. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of hardworking Americans, many of whom are on the front lines of the pandemic fight — citizens in all but the most technical way — wait and watch.
Protecting the Dreamers and preserving the DACA program should be no-brainers. The U.S. Congress could pass a law enshrining it into law tomorrow. Indeed, in stepping back and looking at the whole situation, it’s the best and most obvious outcome.