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Microsoft President Brad Smith poses with employees at the Supreme Court. (Microsoft Photo / Thierry Humeau)

Nineteen Microsoft employees traveled to the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday for a hearing in a critical immigration case that will decide their future.

The court heard oral arguments in a case brought by Microsoft and other plaintiffs challenging President Donald Trump’s 2017 decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

DACA has allowed 66 Microsoft employees and some 700,000 other undocumented immigrants, brought to the U.S. as children, to remain in the country and obtain work permits. The Supreme Court’s decision, in the case heard Tuesday, will determine whether they will be subject to deportation or be eligible to remain in the country under DACA.

Microsoft President Brad Smith accompanied the Dreamers, as they’re called, for the 80-minute hearing in which the court considered several legal challenges to Trump’s decision. The justices will consider two questions: whether the move to rescind DACA should be reviewed by the Supreme Court and if the federal government violated administrative procedures when it moved to terminate the program.

Microsoft President Brad Smith speaking at Seattle’s Town Hall in September. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

DACA’s fate will be considered by one of the most conservative Supreme Court benches in generations, which includes two Trump appointees. The justices “appeared ready to side with the Trump administration,” according to New York Times Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak, but were sympathetic to the position Dreamers are in.

Smith said “it was a very engaged bench,” in an interview with GeekWire. “Mostly I would say it was a very thoughtful discussion.”

President Barack Obama enacted DACA through an executive order in 2012 after Congress failed to pass an immigration bill that would have provided a solution for childhood arrivals.

In 2017, Trump announced he would let DACA expire the following year. The decision prompted a bevy of lawsuits from states, civil rights groups, and DACA recipients. Microsoft was the only corporation to sue the Trump administration over DACA.

Lower courts blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to wind down DACA. Federal judges ordered the government to continue accepting renewals for the program but didn’t require the administration to accept new applicants.

“I think we, as a company, made the right decision to bring this case,” Smith said. “I’m proud of the fact that we were ready to lead even when others in the business community were not quite ready to follow.”

The tech industry eventually did follow Microsoft’s lead, filing amicus briefs and speaking out in support of Dreamers. Earlier this year, some of the biggest names in tech ran a full-page ad in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal urging Congressional leaders to come up with a legislative solution for Dreamers. Smith, along with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and other tech leaders signed the letter.

 

“Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from ‘angels,'” Trump said in a tweet Tuesday. “Some are very tough, hardened criminals.” DACA recipients must prove that they have not committed any serious crimes, among other requirements, to qualify for the program.

Whatever the Supreme Court decides, uncertainty will loom for Dreamers unless Congress steps in with a permanent solution. If Microsoft and the other challengers are successful, DACA could be reinstated but the program still does not offer a path to citizenship.

“Only Congress can create a permanent pathway to citizenship for the Dreamers and that’s what they need and deserve,” Smith said. “We’ve spent the morning at the Supreme Court. We’re going to spend the afternoon on Capitol Hill meeting with members of the House and Senate.”

Trump and Congressional Democrats have been volleying over DACA for years and the future for Dreamers has only become more uncertain as the House pursues its impeachment inquiry and an election year approaches fast. But the Supreme Court’s decision could change the political dynamics, according to Smith.

“It’s a lot easier to address this issue if we win than if we lose,” he said. “If we win, then nobody’s legal status is going to be uprooted in the summer of 2020. If we lose, I think it could create a bit of a political crisis, and more than a little uncertainty, especially as we look to Congress to try to address this in the middle of an election year.”

The Supreme Court’s decision could come as early as next spring or as late as June 2020.

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