Ali Noorani: Supreme Court DACA ruling — good news and now Congress must act to protect Dreamers

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After months of anticipation and years of uncertainty, 700,000 Dreamers received their verdict from the Supreme Court: the Trump administration did not have a sound basis to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

This is amazing news for hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients. But it is also amazing news for millions of Americans who have come to know, respect, depend on and love DACA recipients across the country.

Simply put, this is great news for the United States.

STEVE LEVY: DACA DECISION – SUPREME COURT'S BLOW TO COMMON SENSE AND THE RULE OF LAW

But it is temporary.

The court did not rule on DACA itself — only on how the administration attempted to end it. That means the door is open for the administration to move again to end DACA and deport these young people.

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In the context of a public health crisis, a severe economic downturn, and a long-overdue conversation around systemic racism, the court’s ruling grants another reprieve to young men and women who add an estimated $433 billion to GDP, pay $12.3 billion in taxes to Social Security and Medicare, and work on the front lines as medical professionals amid COVID-19 — not to mention consider themselves proud Americans.

As we enter what will be a deeply divisive electoral season, at stake now is something more profound than whether Congress and the White House can strike a deal that protects Dreamers from deportation. At stake is what kind of nation we are going to be in the decades to come.

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The response to the 1918 Spanish flu, which arrived at a moment in many ways parallel to this one, portends one possible road ahead. At the onset of the Spanish flu, the United States was experiencing its largest wave of immigration in history — the immigrant share of the population was around 14 percent in 1918, roughly where it stands today.

For decades, opponents of a changing America had stigmatized newcomers from Ireland, Italy and China, along with Jewish migrants, as carriers of disease. The pandemic coupled with World War I compounded prejudices, making Americans “afraid of what was out there in the wider world,” writes author Kenneth C. Davis. “There was a growing notion of becoming an isolationist country and keeping out foreign elements.”

Xenophobia reached a crescendo with the passage of the 1924 Immigration Act, which severely reduced immigration from Europe and banned it from Asia. America made a conscious choice to turn inward in those years, as clouds around the world darkened in the run-up to World War II.

Will our elected officials heed the call of the 85 percent of Americans who favor allowing Dreamers to stay in the U.S. legally — including 73 percent of Republicans? 

In recent months, under “the cloak of a pandemic and the convulsions of anti-racist protests,” President Trump has put in place new, legal immigration restrictions and barred asylum seekers, as Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Maggie Haberman recently wrote in the New York Times. (The National Immigration Forum counts nearly four dozen executive policy changes in that time, many of them indefinite.) The president is also considering a proposal to suspend H-1B “high skilled” visas, among other employment visas.

History is on the verge of repeating itself. During a period of rapid demographic change and technological transformation that has caused economic dislocation — on top of a pandemic the federal government struggles to contain — our worst instincts cannot prevail.

Which brings us back to the fate of 700,000 Dreamers.

Will our elected officials heed the call of the 85 percent of Americans who favor allowing Dreamers to stay in the U.S. legally — including 73 percent of Republicans? Will we send the 27,000 Dreamers who are physicians, health aides and nurses back to countries they don’t remember? Will we expel soldiers, valedictorians, friends and neighbors who love the United States?

If a polarized political system cannot permanently protect Dreamers through legislation, even in a Trump era, then, in essence, we are telling the engineer from India and the family fleeing persecution from El Salvador that our doors will not remain “open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here,” as President Ronald Reagan put it in his 1989 farewell address.

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The Supreme Court has given us its say on DACA. Now it’s up to Democrats and Republicans in Washington to reach a compromise, to play a concrete role in healing our nation. The world is watching.

So too are voters who will head to the polls in November.

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