The Supreme Court is hearing arguments over the fate of 700,000 'Dreamers'. Here's everything you need to know about the DACA program hanging in limbo.

Michelle Mark
daca dreamer protest

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  • The Supreme Court is hearing arguments Tuesday over the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which currently shields some 700,000 young unauthorized immigrants from deportation.
  • President Donald Trump announced the program's termination in September 2017, but a number of lower courts kept the program intact while the case made its way up to the Supreme Court.
  • Trump issued a bizarre tweet about the program on Tuesday, vowing to protect Dreamers if the court overturns the program, even as he falsely accused some DACA recipients of being "criminals."
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments Tuesday on the fate of an Obama-era policy protecting some 700,000 young, unauthorized immigrants known as "Dreamers" from deportation.

The program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, has been in limbo for more than two years after President Donald Trump announced its termination in September 2017.

Since then, DACA has been wrapped up in a complex legal battle involving several lower courts that have ruled to keep much of the program intact until the Supreme Court could make a final decision. During this time, Dreamers have been able to renew their two-year DACA statuses, but no new immigrants were allowed to join the program if they were not previously protected.

The case is set to be one of the most significant the Supreme Court will hear this year, and the decision is expected to fall along typical partisan lines, with the court's Democratic appointees voting to preserve the program, most of the Republican appointees voting to dismantle it, and Chief Justice John Roberts acting as a potential swing vote.

Trump issued a bizarre tweet about the program on Tuesday, vowing to protect Dreamers if the court overturns the program, even as he falsely accused some DACA recipients of being "criminals." Immigrants with criminal records are barred from the program.

"Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from 'angels.' Some are very tough, hardened criminals," he tweeted. "President Obama said he had no legal right to sign order, but would anyway. If Supreme Court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!"

Here's what you need to know about DACA.

What is DACA?

Reuters/Mike Blake

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program shields from deportation roughly 690,000 young unauthorized immigrants by providing two-year, renewable permits.

The Obama administration implemented DACA in 2012, after several attempts to legislate a permanent solution for Dreamers failed in Congress.

DACA does not grant immigrants a legal status in the US. It lets them work legally and protects them from deportation so long as they aren't convicted of major crimes.

Applicants to the program were only accepted if they were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012. They had to have moved to the US before they turned 16 years old, and lived in the US continuously since 2007.

They were also required to have graduated high school or obtained a GED, or completed prior military service, and to not have any prior felony or serious misdemeanor convictions.

The Trump administration announced September 5, 2017 that it would wind down the program, calling it an act of executive overreach by the Obama administration and declaring it unconstitutional.



What arguments will the Supreme Court hear?

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Unlike much of the political debate around DACA — which largely focuses on whether the Obama administration had the authority to create such a program — the debate playing out in the Supreme Court revolves largely around whether the Trump administration demonstrated adequate legal reasoning in ending it.

The Trump administration had argued that DACA was unconstitutional and that it would not hold up in the courts, since a number of conservative states had threatened to sue over the program.

But a number of lower courts have since ruled that the Trump administration's legal reasoning did not justify ending DACA.

For instance, had Trump simply ended the program as a matter of policy preference, his decision would likely have withstood lawsuits. But since the administration opted for a specific legal argument, the lower courts ruled that its reasoning was too weak.

But lawyers for the Department of Justice have continued to argue that since DACA was created though a president's executive action, it can also be dismantled by a different president's executive action.



What will happen to the Dreamers?

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Immigration lawyers and advocates argued throughout the last two years that the uncertainty over DACA renewals only add to the urgency.

Renewals can take months for the government to process, and that leaves both DACA recipients and their employers in limbo if their renewals aren't processed quickly enough before their work authorization expires.

"It is going to be so detrimental to them, because they just don't know. It's hard for employers to plan," Theda Fisher, a partner at the Withers Bergman law firm, told Business Insider in .

"[DACA recipients] also all live in a world of uncertainty. So if they have a car loan or a mortgage or a family here, they're not sure if they're going to be able to pay their bills come later this year when their work authorization expires."

For now, they're in limbo.



How do lawmakers feel about DACA?

Associated Press/Evan Vucci

Lawmakers on all sides of the political spectrum generally agree that DACA recipients were brought to the US through no fault of their own and grew up alongside Americans, and therefore should not face deportation en masse.

There are some exceptions, such as Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who has proposed that DACA recipients "go home" and that they could volunteer for the Peace Corps in their home countries.

King and some far-right immigration commentators argue that granting any type of "amnesty" to the DACA population would negatively impact American workers, particularly because DACA recipients are relatively well-educated, skilled, and competitive in the workforce.

Economists say there is no evidence that DACA recipients are systematically taking jobs away from American workers.

But in mainstream politics, the debate was not whether to let DACA recipients stay in the US, but what type of status to grant them.

Democrats argued that DACA recipients should have a pathway to citizenship, and so should a broader population of unauthorized immigrants brought to the US as children who either fell outside of DACA's age parameters or who may have been eligible for DACA but failed to apply.

Some Republicans also supported a pathway to citizenship, but hard-line conservatives preferred to grant DACA recipients temporary, renewable permits. The lawmakers feared that granting citizenship to DACA recipients would lead to the naturalization of their parents or other relatives, whom they could sponsor.



Why has DACA become such a sticking point?

Associated Press/Evan Vucci

The debate over what to do with DACA recipients opened up an immigration-related can of worms that has simmered in the background for the better part of two years.

Republicans demanded that DACA reforms be paired with border security measures because they feared that legalizing an entire category of unauthorized immigrants could incentivize others to attempt illegal immigration.

But Republicans and Democrats disagreed on what measures to take and how much funding to provide.

Some Republicans, as well as Trump, have also demanded reforms to family-based immigration categories, which they refer to as "chain migration."

Immigration hardliners, including Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue, previously proposed slashing legal immigration to the US by half, mostly by reducing the ability of US citizens and green card holders to sponsor their foreign relatives for visas.

A debate over "chain migration" also came into play, after a terrorist attempted a suicide bombing in a busy underground passageway in New York City. Akayed Ullah, then 27, had immigrated to the US in 2011 through a family-sponsored visa category.

The Trump administration declared "chain migration" incompatible with national security and demanded Congress eliminate extended-family visa categories, which it said allowed "far too many dangerous, inadequately vetted people to access our country."

The diversity visa lottery met a similar fate. The program, which allots roughly 50,000 visas to people from countries that typically send few immigrants to the US, has long been a target for hardliners like Cotton and Perdue.

But the program burst into the mainstream political debate after another New York City terror attack in October 2017, in which the suspect received a visa to the US through the lottery years earlier.

Trump demanded that the lottery be eliminated, and accused foreign countries of using the diversity visa lottery to send their "worst people" to the US. The claim is false, as countries don't send immigrants through the program — people apply of their own volition.

While most lawmakers can agree that they need to "do something" about DACA, they can't agree on how to solve the rest of the immigration debate, and the Dreamers have gotten tangled up in the larger web.