Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision blocking the Trump administration’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, thus protecting approximately 700,000 immigrants, commonly referred to as the “Dreamers,” from being deported from the United States.
How DACA Works
In 2012, President Barack Obama initiated the DACA program by Executive Order. It wasn’t a new law passed by Congress or a regulation put in place by a government agency. The program permits people to register who:
- Were brought to the United States illegally as children before June 2007;
- Have subsequently lived their entire lives in the country;
- Meet certain criteria related to continuing education; and
- Avoid any significant criminal record.
Under DACA, the government agrees not to deport the recipients, and they are eligible for lawful work authorization in 2-year increments. The program allows them to work legally, pay taxes, and enjoy a measure of security in the only society they have ever known.
DACA recipients cannot obtain permanent resident status (a green card) or citizenship. Technically, they are in the United States illegally and in almost all cases have no viable path to “normalizing” their status under existing immigration laws.
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would have provided a path to residency and citizenship for DACA recipients, but Republicans in Congress repeatedly blocked the bill.
Path to Supreme Court
In 2017, the Trump administration announced it would end the DACA program. Once recipients’ existing work authorization ran out, they would not be eligible to renew and could be deported. Legal challenges opposing the dissolution of the program led federal courts to let it continue while litigation challenging the administration’s action wound its way through the system. The Supreme Court ultimately agreed to hear the case.
The Court ruled the action canceling DACA was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The APA requires many executive branch actions and rulemaking to follow certain procedures or else they are invalid, among those being that the administration must provide a reasonable rationale for the decisions it makes.
Essentially, the Court found the administration had provided a rationale for withdrawing employment authorization and other benefits from DACA recipients, but no rationale for withdrawing the moratorium on deporting the 700,000 Dreamers. The lack of rationale for removing a core feature of the program rendered the decision illegal under the APA.
More to Come?
Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion was careful to express no judgment on the wisdom of the administration’s action. While the ruling provides Dreamers, and the U.S. businesses that employ them, with some measure of relief, they still face an uncertain future.
The Trump administration can still cancel DACA by simply complying with the APA requirements and providing a reasonable rationale for ending all aspects of the program.