The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the White House from terminating an Obama-era program designed to protect young immigrants from deportation.
President Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2017, five years after it was created by former President Barack Obama. Under DACA, noncitizens brought to the country as children could apply for protection from deportation.
Thursday’s decision affects hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants, some of whom were working on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic as they awaited this decision.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four liberal-leaning justices on the court in a 5-4 ruling finding that the decision to end DACA was “arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act.”
“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, adding, “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.”
Those using the DACA program had been allowed to renew their status due to legal challenges that had kept the program running as the case worked its way to the Supreme Court. Thursday’s ruling stated that while the administration may have the power to rescind DACA, it didn’t follow correct procedures in doing so.
The administration can still fight to end the program, but after the Supreme Court ruling, it will be forced to head back to the lower courts. That means the fate of DACA is unlikely to be decided before the November election, although Trump said Thursday afternoon he is “asking for a legal solution” and “we have to start this process all over again.”
Shortly after the ruling, Trump tweeted that recent liberal victories in the Supreme Court were “shotgun blasts into the face” of Republicans.
“These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives. We need more Justices or we will lose our 2nd. Amendment & everything else. Vote Trump 2020!” he wrote on Twitter in response to the ruling, adding, “Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?”
Groups that supported DACA and the president who implemented it celebrated but noted the work that needed to be done in Congress to secure the protections going forward.
“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a resounding victory for Dreamers and a nod to our country’s immigrant heritage,” said the Latino Victory Project in a statement. “Dreamers strengthen our communities and economy, and they’re our neighbors, friends, colleagues and heroes in the Covid-19 frontlines. Now, the ball is on the Republican-led Senate’s court to pass the American Dream and Promise Act as a permanent solution to ensure that Dreamers can live full lives in the only country that they call home.”
“Eight years ago this week, we protected young people who were raised as part of our American family from deportation,” said Obama in a statement after the ruling. “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 and now to stand up for those ideals, we have to move forward and elect @Joe Biden and a Democratic Congress that does its job, protects DREAMers, and finally creates a system that’s truly worthy of this nation of immigrants once and for all.”
Anti-immigration groups, meanwhile, railed against the ruling.
“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court denying President Trump’s rescission of DACA, a program that was implemented by nothing more than a policy memo issued by his predecessor, is an enormous setback for efforts to enforce U.S. immigration laws, as well as for the Constitution’s Separation of Powers doctrine,” wrote the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
Justice Clarence Thomas said the decision was “an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision.”
“The Court could have made clear that the solution respondents seek must come from the Legislative Branch,” Thomas wrote in his dissent, which was joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito (Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote a separate dissent).
Thursday’s ruling was the second time this week that Roberts sided against the conservative justices, after a Monday ruling that affirmed protections for LGBTQ workers. Gorsuch, Trump’s first Supreme Court appointee, also sided with Roberts and the liberal justices in that decision.
“These kids, I feel for them,” said an emotional Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, after Thursday’s ruling. “Who would have thought the Supreme Court would have so many good decisions in one week?”
DACA is open to those who entered the U.S. before the age of 16 and were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012 — the day the program was created. Anyone “convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors” or who otherwise poses a threat to national security or public safety is not eligible for DACA.
Just before the Supreme Court heard the case last fall, however, Trump tweeted that Dreamers are sometimes “hardened criminals.”
“Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from ‘angels,’” he wrote on Nov. 12. “Some are very tough, hardened criminals.”
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