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Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments in a case that threatens the legal status of around 700,000 young people. They're often called DREAMers. These are kids who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents. President Trump tried to rescind DACA after he took office, but the lower courts blocked him. NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg has the story.
NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: In 2012, President Obama put in place a program to temporarily protect young people brought to the country illegally as children. If you were in school or a high school graduate or had been honorably discharged from the military and if you passed a background check, you were eligible for temporary legal status and a work permit - renewable every two years. The program is formally known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The deferred action is deferred detention and deportation. President Trump, from the beginning, seemed conflicted about DACA, caught between the mass deportations he promised his political base during the campaign and his admiration for what so many of the DREAMers have accomplished.
TAZ A: My dad always told me when he came to this country, he could never restfully lay his head down at night. And it wasn't until that I had received my DACA card that he was able to breathe.
DIVINE: Next thing you know, I was choosing from different universities, acceptances and I was like, hey, I can dream. Like, I can go to school.
MARTIN BATALLA VIDAL: I work in a - it's a rehab/nursing home for traumatic brain injury. I would not be there if it wasn't for DACA.
MARICRUZ R: I did some fieldwork picking strawberries. And I decided to become a teacher so that students could have that role model.
EMMANUEL A: I worked on a project that won two Grammys.
ANGELICA VILLALOBOS: I am a mom, a wife and a business owner. We got DACA and it's like we got wings.
MITCHELL SANTOS TOLEDO: The U.S. is us, and this is home for us. It's not a place I call home. It is home.
TOTENBERG: Those were DACA recipients - Taz A, a junior at the University of Oklahoma - Divine, a graduate student at UC Davis - rehabilitation aid Martin Batalla Vidal, teacher Maricruz R, musician Emmanuel A, auto repair shop owner Angelica Villalobos, and Harvard Law student Mitchell Santos Toledo. They were born in Bangladesh, Mexico, Nigeria and the Philippines. Their success illustrates the reason that Republicans and Democrats in Congress tried to work out a DACA deal that President Trump would sign in 2017. Rest easy, the president told the DREAMers.
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: But he kept waffling back and forth about what he would be willing to accept and what he wouldn't be willing to accept.
TOTENBERG: Julie Hirschfeld Davis, author of "Border Wars," says that at the end of the day, Trump's indecision so frustrated Senate Republican leaders that they worked out a compromise with Democrats on their own. Just hours before the deal was to come up for a vote on the Senate floor, however, the administration branded it unacceptable. Shortly thereafter, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the DACA program would end because, he said, it was illegal and unconstitutional to begin with.
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JEFF SESSIONS: Simply put, if we are to further our goal of strengthening the constitutional order and the rule of law in America, the Department of Justice cannot defend this overreach.
TED OLSON: They are dead wrong when they say that the DACA program adopted by the Obama administration was illegal.
TOTENBERG: That's Ted Olson, who served as solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration. Today, in the Supreme Court, he'll be representing the DACA plaintiffs. Olson points to programs similar to DACA that were put in place by every other president dating back to the Eisenhower administration, programs that granted temporary legal status to millions over time. Janet Napolitano was secretary of Homeland Security when DACA was created.
JANET NAPOLITANO: Not only is there a long history of deferring action for particular groups under the immigration laws, but there's the whole concept of prosecutorial discretion, which gives the executive branch, you know, the authority to make decisions about who is going to feel the full brunt of the federal government in an enforcement proceeding versus not.
TOTENBERG: None of the Trump administration's DHS secretaries involved in revoking DACA would agree to be interviewed for this broadcast. So we turn to John Eastman, a constitutional law professor at Chapman University, who filed a brief siding with the Trump administration in the DACA case.
JOHN EASTMAN: The Supreme Court has long recognized that there may be a line between prosecutorial discretion, not enforcing the law in every instance, and a complete suspension of the law.
TOTENBERG: Eastman maintains that DACA was different from other, similar programs in prior administrations.
EASTMAN: Not only did it say we're not going to enforce the law as it's written, but we're going to give out benefits, work authorization, Social Security benefits, tax credits on tax returns. None of those are a permissible exercise of prosecutorial discretion, so I do think they are different in kind.
TOTENBERG: Janet Napolitano counters that granting temporary legal status to DACA recipients enables them to work, and when they work, they must pay into Social Security and pay taxes.
NAPOLITANO: Something like 91% have jobs. If DACA is rescinded, there are estimates that the government would lose some $60 billion in federal tax revenues.
TOTENBERG: Napolitano is no longer DHS secretary. She's president of the giant University of California system, including 1,700 students with DACA status. And in that capacity, she's challenging President Trump's revocation of the DACA program as so arbitrary and unsupported by stated reasons that the revocation is itself illegal.
NAPOLITANO: If they had done a full policy review and had set forth all their reasons and had demonstrated that they had weighed the pros and cons and just came to a different conclusion, they might be able to prevail in this case, but they didn't do that.
TOTENBERG: Whether the current Supreme Court, dominated by conservative justices inclined to defer to presidential power, will buy that argument remains to be seen. Nina Totenberg, NPR News Washington.
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