Immigrant advocates to Supreme Court: DACA recipients vital to health care in virus crisis

2020-03-28 | San Francisco Chronicle

March 28-- Mar. 28--As the fate of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals awaits a Supreme Court verdict, immigrant advocates are imploring the court to consider the potential impact on a nation facing a health crisis, while 27,000 DACA recipients hold jobs in medical care.

"Health care workers risking their lives to protect our communities shouldn't have to worry that they will be ripped from their jobs and deported," Todd Schulte, president of the advocacy group FWD.us, said Friday.

Out of the 700,000 migrants currently protected from deportation under DACA, 27,000 hold jobs as nurses, pharmacists, physician assistants, home health aides, and, for nearly 200, medical students or licensed physicians, said lawyers defending the program.

The U.S. is not "prepared to fill the loss that would result if DACA recipients were excluded from the health care workforce," attorney Michael Wishnie said in a letter to the court.

President Barack Obama created DACA by executive order in 2012, granting two-year reprieves from deportation and work permits to undocumented immigrants who entered before age 16, have lived in the U.S. for five years, attended school or served in the military and have no serious criminal records.

President Trump ordered the program abolished in 2017 and said Obama had no authority to establish it after legislative efforts failed in Congress. A federal appeals court disagreed, saying the president can set priorities for deportations and Trump had not given adequate reasons for his action, but the Supreme Court then granted review.

At a hearing in November, the court's conservative majority seemed to agree that Trump had broad authority over such matters, but Chief Justice John Roberts stopped short of endorsing the administration's argument that Obama had acted illegally.

In a tweet shortly before the hearing, Trump declared, without evidence, that some DACA recipients have become "very tough, hardened criminals."

A ruling is due by the end of June. But one advocacy group, The Dream.US, urged the court on Friday to put the case on hold during the coronavirus outbreak and called for Congress and the administration to work on legislation extending DACA.

Also urging a delay was Itzel Hernandez, who came to the U.S. from Mexico with her mother when she was 10 and now works as an immigrants'-rights organizer for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization, in New Jersey.

"The very lives of DACA recipients like me and their families rest on what the court decides," she said.

Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: begelko@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @BobEgelko