WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday salvaged an Obama-era program that has allowed hundreds of thousands of young, unauthorized immigrants known as “Dreamers” to remain in the country without immediate fear of deportation.
In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s liberal wing in finding that the Trump administration broke the law in 2017 when it rescinded the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
Roberts wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
The court held that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s decision to end the program was “arbitrary and capricious” and therefore in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.
“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” Roberts wrote. “‘The wisdom’ of those decisions ‘is none of our concern.’”
But the department, he said, “failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients. That dual failure raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner.”
The ruling was a relief for Ivanna de Coss, who said she came to Des Moines from Oaxaca, Mexico, when she was 7 years old, along with three cousins. She’s had a DACA permit since 2012 but it expires early next year.
“Prior to the news I got today, I was worried. This is something that’s always in the back of my head because we don’t really know what’s going to happen,” de Coss said.
Now 22, she has a good job at a major financial services company in Des Moines and is her family’s primary breadwinner.
“I wouldn’t know what to do without being here legally,” she said. “I wouldn’t know where to work and we wouldn’t be able to live in the conditions we do now.”
She said while the ruling is a victory for people like her, “I’d like to see something done for all of us.”
Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-1st District, said in a statement: “Dreamers live in and contribute to communities throughout Northeast Iowa — they are students, employees and military service members. They are Iowans. The Supreme Court’s decision today is a positive step toward easing the uncertainty and anxiety they face, and underscores the need for bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform.”
Rep. Cindy Axne, D-3rd District, tweeted about the ruling that the Supreme Court “rightly blocked the end of this critical program. It is time for the Senate to pass the #DreamAct to provide #Dreamers with permanent protection.”
#DACA protects thousands who have known no other home & built lives here in the U.S. – and the Supreme Court rightly blocked the end of this critical program.
— Rep. Cindy Axne (@RepCindyAxne) June 18, 2020
Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst have signed on to legislation that would allow DACA recipients to “earn” naturalization through criteria such as earning a high-school diploma and working full-time or serving in the military or pursuing a postsecondary or vocational degree. The recipients would have to sign a “conditional departure order” that could be enforced for criminal behavior or failure to meet the other eligibility criteria.
“I’ve always been in favor of protecting the status of DACA recipients and showing compassion towards undocumented children that were brought here through no fault of their own,” Ernst said in a statement. “This decision further underscores the need to fix our broken immigration system.”
The ruling also drew cheers from liberal lawmakers and advocates across the country.
“By rejecting the Trump administration’s illegal attempt to end DACA, the Supreme Court provided a critical measure of relief to DACA recipients and their families at a time when they — like all Americans — are experiencing significant fear and uncertainty as a result of the coronavirus pandemic,” Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, said in a statement.
Justice Clarence Thomas called the ruling “mystifying” in a dissenting opinion. “Today’s decision must be recognized for what it is: an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision,” he wrote.
The ruling will likely inflame partisan tensions ahead of the 2020 presidential contest. It comes days after the court issued an unexpected ruling protecting LGBTQ workers from job discrimination.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the pair of rulings “a bright ray of sunshine” during difficult times. “This is a wonderful, wonderful day,” he said in a statement.
The DACA program was created in 2012 to allow certain immigrants who arrived in the United States before age 16 to apply for temporary protection from deportation and work permits.
About 700,000 people have participated in the program, according to the court. A 2017 survey of DACA recipients found that nearly all respondents were either employed or in school, according to the Center for American Progress.
President Donald Trump vowed on the campaign trail to “end” the program. His administration made good on his promise in 2017, but lower courts blocked the decision from taking effect.
The administration could try to end the program again, the court noted. If it does, it will have to do so in a way that complies with federal law governing such decisions.
Last June, the U.S. House passed legislation that would safeguard the program and provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. The bill has not been taken up in the U.S. Senate.