Thai among “dreamers” celebrating US court ruling over DACA

Jirayuth Latthivongskorn, a Thai DACA recipient, gives a statement after the Supreme Court’s DACA hearing. – Photo courtesy of VOA

A 30-year-old Thai who has just completed his medical studies in the US is among hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who are now celebrating a historical decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to protect them from deportation, according to Voice of America (VOA).

The surprise 5-4 ruling means the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, will remain in place for the foreseeable future, allowing 700,000 undocumented immigrants, including Jirayuth Latthivongsakorn who went to the US when he was nine,  to live and work in the US.

VOA said the ruling is a major setback to Trump administration ’s years-long effort to end the program.

“I’m stunned,”  said Jirayuth, a Thai DACA recipient and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuits heard by the Supreme Court.

“I’m trying to process all of this and what it means to me personally, to thousands of people, to the immigration rights movement in the U.S. because this is the first major victory, at this level, since Trump became president,” he said.

Jirayuth came to the US in 1999, two years after his parents moved to California. They found work in restaurants and overstayed their visas.  California is home to nearly 190,000 DACA recipients, according to Center for American Progress.

According to VOA, in 2012, Jirayuth applied for DACA protection.  He attended two prestigious universities – University of California at Berkeley and Harvard University – before receiving his medical degree from USFC Medical School as the first undocumented immigrant in the school’s 155-year history.

“We got the DACA program because we fought for it and we won today because we fought for it in the past few years,” he said  “Even just a few months ago, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that thousands or tens of thousands of DACA recipients are essential workers. They are farm workers. They work in groceries stores. They are doctors, nurses and paramedics.”

According to the Center for American Progress, more than 200,000 DACA recipients have worked on the front lines of the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The DACA program was created in 2012 through an executive order issued by then-President Barack Obama. DACA recipients, known as “Dreamers” and mostly from Mexico and Central America, are allowed to receive benefits such as health insurance and driver’s licenses.

But President Donald Trump, who campaigned on ending DACA and illegal immigration to the country, directed the Department of Homeland Security in 2017 to phase out the program, calling it unlawful. Legal challenges to the decision to end DACA were upheld by federal courts in several states, prompting the administration’s appeal to the high court.

In a post on Twitter, Obama praised the ruling, saying, “Eight years ago this week, we protected young people who were raised as part of our American family from deportation. Today, I’m happy for them, their families, and all of us. We may look different and come from everywhere, but what makes us American are our shared ideals.”

Criticizing the court’s decision as “highly political,” Trump wrote on Twitter that he wanted a “legal solution on DACA,” and that in light of the ruling, “we have to start this process all over again.”

“The DACA decision, while a highly political one, and seemingly not based on the law, gives the President of the United States far more power than EVER anticipated,” Trump tweeted. “Nevertheless, I will only act in the best interests of the United States of America!”

Slamming the Supreme Court’s rulings against his administration as “horrible & politically charged,” Trump, who often brags about appointing conservative federal judges, wrote, “We need more Justices or we will lose our 2nd. Amendment & everything else.”


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