SALT LAKE CITY — Alan Ledesma headed to his job as a chef at an Orem sushi bar Thursday a little more hopeful about his future in the United States than the day before.
The 27-year-old native of Mexico called the U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing so-called “Dreamers” to remain safe from deportation for now a “ray of sunshine” amid the coronavirus pandemic and civil unrest.
“It’s definitely a sigh of relief,” said Ledesma, whose parents moved to the Bronx when he was 9. “Honestly, it’s been a rough year, but it gives me a lot of faith and hope that in spite of everything, this country is still built on foundations of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected President Donald Trump’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, handing a victory to about 700,000 immigrants, including more than 10,500 in Utah, most of whom entered the U.S. illegally as children more than a decade ago.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s Democratic appointees in a 5-4 decision that found the Department of Homeland Security’s move to rescind the Obama-era program was arbitrary and capricious.
“Here the agency failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients. That dual failure raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner,” Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.
The ruling doesn’t preclude the Trump administration from terminating the program in the future if it follows the correct legal process.
That isn’t lost on Ledesma, who is working on a degree in public relations at Utah Valley University.
“We can breathe easier but we’re still not out of the woods just yet,” he said during a break at the Asahi Sushi Bar where he was preparing rice for the day.
Trump condemned the decision as “horrible and politically charged.”
“As President of the United States, I am asking for a legal solution on DACA, not a political one, consistent with the rule of law. The Supreme Court is not willing to give us one, so now we have to start this process all over again,” the president tweeted.
Joseph Edlow, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services deputy director for policy, said the court decision has no basis in law and merely delays the president’s lawful ability to end the DACA “amnesty” program he called illegal.
“The fact remains that under DACA, hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens continue to remain in our country in violation of the laws passed by Congress and to take jobs Americans need now more than ever,” he said in a statement.
DACA allows some people without lawful presence in the United States after being brought to the country as children to receive a renewable two-year deferral from deportation and obtain a work permit. Unlike the failed DREAM Act, it does not provide a path to citizenship.
Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee tweeted that the Supreme Court found the DACA program is “clearly illegal.”
“If a president can’t undo the illegal acts of his predecessor, that can lead only to ever expanding executive power,” he said.
Retired GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch, one of the original sponsors of the DREAM Act, said the court’s decision underscores the need for Congress to provide legal status for “Dreamers.”
”Many of these men and women have been on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19 and have contributed to our economy in invaluable ways. They have helped build the America we know today and deserve a seat at the table. Their fate should not have to be relitigated every few years,” the Utah Republican said in a statement.
Ledesma said he has been “waiting and waiting” for a decision since Trump announced plans to end DACA in 2017.
“I still have a lot of faith in the institutions in this country in spite of what’s been going on and the madness and the chaos. I still truly believe that this country has been set up for us to succeed, not just us immigrants but anybody,” he said.
Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, also called on Congress to pass permanent protection for “Dreamers.”
“For the sake of not only ‘Dreamers’ but our nation, this legal limbo must end,” he said in a statement.
Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, said they are part of the community, working, attending school and serving in the military. DACA recipients in Utah own 2,500 homes and pay $28 million in annual mortgage payments, as well as contribute $138.7 million in federal taxes, he said.
“Brought here as young children, this is the only home most of them have ever known,” he said, adding for now they will be able go on with their lives.
McAdams said the court ruling is an important but temporary reprieve. He said it’s up to Congress to reform the broken immigration system to give “Dreamers” the certainty they deserve and strengthen families, communities and the economy.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said he’s glad the Supreme Court gave some certainty to DACA, “but the fact they needed to is a black eye for Congress.”
“We had our chance to help Dreamers first & we let them down,” he tweeted. “Congress must work together to provide a permanent solution for Dreamers & other critical immigration issues.”
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, who contributed to an amicus brief in the case, said the ruling affirms the need for an open and trusting relationship with law enforcement.
“Otherwise, individuals are subjected to violence and exploitation if they are left in the shadows,” he said.
State Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, said DACA participants are Americans.
“These are friends and neighbors who have voluntarily come forth in exchange for protection and acknowledgement of their rights. Despite the administration’s claims to the contrary, ‘Dreamers’ are, by definition, not criminals,” she said.
Ledesma described himself and those like him as “just a bunch of kids who love this country.” He said they’re not here to harm anybody or take over the country. They’re here to be free and enjoy the same opportunity afforded everyone else.
“Even though I’m not an American, I consider myself an American,” he said. “I woke up today with this decision the Supreme Court came up with even more proud to be an American than ever.”