By Terrance Turner
The Supreme Court today blocked the Trump administration’s plan to end DACA, a program that protects immigrants brought to the United States as children. In a 5-4 ruling, the Court found that the administration’s attempt to end DACA in 2017 was “arbitrary and capricious”.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was created in 2012 under then-President Barack Obama. Under the program, immigrants brought to the U.S. as children could stay in the States temporarily. They could apply and file for a two-year “forbearance” that would shield them from deportation. They have to be within 15 and 30 years of age, with no felony convictions. They must also pass a background check. According to NPR, DACA recipients must also be currently in school, a high school graduate, or honorably discharged from the military. The fee to renew and apply is $495.
Obama was moved to create the program after activists staged sit-ins in congressional offices and protested outside the White House. It was launched after the DREAM Act, which had similar protections, failed to pass Congress. (It was blocked in the Senate by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Texas Senator John Cornyn.)
According to ImmigrationHelp.org, the bill would have made Dreamers eligible for a “conditional residency” status that would let them live and work in the U.S. for six years. After six years, they could get lawful permanent resident status, better known as a “green card.” Despite support from both Democrats and Republicans at the time, that bill never became law because it couldn’t get enough support in the Senate.
The current president moved to end the program in 2017, after winning office on an anti-immigrant platform. But the Supreme Court today handed Trump his second defeat of the week, ruling that his administration acted capriciously in trying to dismantle the program.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion. He was joined by the Court’s left-leaning justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Clarence Thomas wrote the majority dissent, joined by Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh. (According to the AP, the latter two wrote dissents of their own.)
“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” Roberts wrote. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action. Here the agency failed.”
The agency in question is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). According to the text of the Court’s decision, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked then-acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke to rescind the policy. “The next day, Duke acted on that advice. Taking into consideration the Fifth Circuit and Supreme Court rulings and the Attorney General’s letter, Duke decided to terminate the program. She explained that DHS would no longer accept new applications, but that existing DACA recipients whose benefits were set to expire within six months could apply for a two-year renewal. For all other DACA recipients, previously issued grants of relief would expire on their own terms, with no prospect for renewal.”
The result was a number of lawsuits by those who argued that the administration had violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. One of those plaintiffs was the NAACP, which said that the administration unlawfully reneged on a promise to protect young, undocumented immigrants of color. “NAACP, whose membership includes DACA registrants across the United States, is filing this lawsuit to protect the hundreds of thousands of Mexican, Caribbean and African immigrants,” NAACP General Counsel Janette M. Louard said. (NAACP’s website says that while over 80% of DACA recipients are Mexican, 36,000 Africans are also eligible for the program.)
The text of the Court’s decision (DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY ET AL. v. REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA ET AL.) says the NAACP suit was in D.C.’s District Court. The District Court granted partial summary judgment to the NAACP; today’s verdict upheld that ruling. NAACP President Derrick Johnson called the decision “a tremendous victory for America”.
“Today’s decision is completely monumental,” said Krissia Rivera, a 27-year-old DACA recipient and fourth-year medical school student at Brown University. “This decision means that I will be able to apply to residency programs and hopefully achieve my dream of becoming a surgeon,” Rivera told ABC. The decision is a major victory for thousands of immigrants: an estimated 800,000 people have enrolled in the program. DACA shielded them from deportation while they graduated, started businesses, became doctors or nurses, bought homes, even married and had children.
Some of them are working for major companies. According to ABC News, 200 major corporations filed briefs in the Supreme Court supporting the DACA recipients. Among them Microsoft, which was a plaintiff in one of the cases that made it to the Supreme Court, and Microsoft President Brad Smith. “There are more than 30,000 DACA registrants working in the health space alone. We’ve never needed these people more than we do today,” he said. “Every time I meet with them, I have the same reaction. We are lucky as a country to have them.”
Former vice president Joe Biden praised the ruling, writing: “The Supreme Court’s ruling today is a victory made possible by the courage and resilience of hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients…As President, I will immediately work to make it permanent.”