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After failed legislative attempts on DACA, fate of ‘Dreamers’ lies with Supreme Court

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments that could decide the fate of some 700,000 “Dreamers,” members of a younger generation of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. They are currently protected from deportation by an executive order that President Barack Obama put in place in 2012, but that President Donald Trump has sought to cancel. Amna Nawaz reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear arguments that could decide the fate of hundreds of thousands of dreamers. That's the younger generation of undocumented immigrants brought to this country by their parents and protected from deportation.

    The justices will hear arguments over a series of lawsuits around the Obama era decision and President Trump's efforts to end it.

    Whatever the outcome, it will be one of the signature decisions of this session and will land right in the middle of the 2020 campaign.

    Amna Nawaz looks at the stakes and how we got to this moment.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In 2012, then President Barack Obama was running for reelection when he announced a new executive action, a program giving undocumented immigrants the chance to apply for protection from deportation.

  • Barack Obama:

    This morning, Secretary Napolitano announced new actions my administration will take to mend our nation's immigration policy, to make it more fair, more efficient, and more just, specifically for certain young people sometimes called dreamers.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Those who qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, had to arrive in the United States before June 2007 and before turning 16, be enrolled in school, or have a high school diploma or GED, and pass a background check with no felony convictions.

    DACA status shielded enrollees from deportation, was renewable every two years, and allowed recipients to work legally in the U.S. Nearly 800,000 people received that protection, including Ewaoluwa Ogundana.

    Whether she and others should still receive those same protections is a central question the Supreme Court will take up tomorrow. At the age of five, Ogundana was brought to America from Nigeria. She received DACA status when she was 15.

  • Ewaoluwa Ogundana:

    DACA changed my life so much for the better. I was just constantly insecure. And then knowing that I was an immigrant, and I technically — like, hearing that I didn't belong here, it just added to that insecurity.

    So, when I had DACA, and I knew I could work, and I knew I could have a driver's license, and I could drive, and I could have my own car, I didn't feel like I had to be insecure about anything anymore. Like, it broke that barrier of insecurity.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But the security DACA provided was supposed to be only temporary, as President Obama said in 2012.

  • Barack Obama:

    This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The president's move was met by a Republican chorus of criticism, branding DACA illegal and unconstitutional.

    In 2014, when Obama proposed expanding DACA to protect parents of dreamers, the Republican-controlled House struck back, voting to defund DACA; 26 states followed with suits to block the expansion. In the years since, lawmakers have tried and failed to pass several bipartisan versions of the DREAM Act to offer qualified dreamers a long-term solution, despite strong bipartisan support for a legislative fix.

  • Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.:

    I do believe it's unconstitutional, whether you agree with the merits of it or not. But I also believe that it should be replaced, it comes to an end because it's replaced by something that is constitutional, which is a legislative action.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Dreamers' fate was thrown into further uncertainty when candidate Donald Trump vowed to eliminate DACA entirely. Here he is in June of 2015.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I will immediately terminate President Obama's illegal executive order on immigration, immediately.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Once elected, President Trump appeared to soften his stance.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We're going to show great heart. DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you. To me, it's one of the most difficult subjects I have, because you have these incredible kids, in many cases, not in all cases.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But seven months later, the administration announced it would be terminating DACA. Then Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

  • Jeff Sessions:

    To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Courts have since halted the president's move, and several offers to reform DACA have been rejected by the Trump administration, including another bipartisan bill from Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, and South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    There are a lot of people on the Republican side of the aisle understand your dilemma, and we want to find a fair solution, because you have done nothing wrong. You came here as children. You have contributed to society. You have passed criminal background checks.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That plan included a 12-year path to citizenship and $1.6 billion for the president's border wall. While the overwhelming majority of DACA recipients come from Mexico, dreamers come from at least 200 different countries, according to government data.

    Today, after failed attempts to pass legislation and strike a deal with the administration, the futures of roughly 700,000 people brought to this country as children lies with the Supreme Court. But the arguments heard by the justices may focus on very specific legal questions.

    Lower courts have found the Trump administration didn't provide a solid rationale for its decision to end DACA. The administration argues it has the ability to do so through executive power.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.

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