But DACA was not created through legislation, despite efforts from the Obama administration to get the policy through Congress. Instead, the administration created the program as a form of prosecutorial discretion. The Fifth Circuit blocked an expansion of the program known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents from taking effect.
Conservatives have long attacked DACA as an executive overreach, and it was on this basis that the Trump administration rescinded the policy in 2017, following threats from Texas and other states to challenge the legality of DACA in court.
Trump then used the program as a bargaining chip in seeking funding for his long-promised border wall.
Rescinding the program brought a flood of lawsuits from blue states and immigrant and civil rights groups, who argued the move threw the statuses of hundreds of thousands of people who relied on the program to build their lives into doubt. The groups and states also argued the Trump administration did not follow procedures required under the Administrative Procedure Act in revoking the program.
The challengers said the administration did not consider how rescinding the program would hurt the people who had come to rely on it, and that it ignored past government guidance finding DACA lawful.
Andrea Flores, the deputy director of immigration policy at the ACLU, praised the decision but called on the Senate to take up House-passed legislation that would codify DACA.
“This decision allows DACA recipients to live and work without the daily fear of deportation and confirms what we have always known: America is their home,” Flores said in a statement.
Procedural issues, including those with the Administrative Procedure Act, are a primary focus of Thursday’s ruling, which Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan joined in full.
While the government argued the decision to rescind DACA was judicially unreviewable, the court considered that the policy was more than one of nonenforcement, and that the administration failed to show it had acted with careful consideration.
Indeed, former Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen refused to elaborate on the reasons for rescinding the program given by her predecessor, Secretary Elaine Duke — a position that the court said boxed her into relying on only that argument.
“But despite purporting to explain the Duke memorandum, Secretary Nielsen’s reasoning bears little relationship to that of her predecessor,” Roberts wrote. “Acting Secretary Duke rested the rescission on the conclusion that DACA is unlawful. Period. By contrast, Secretary Nielsen’s new memorandum offered three ‘separate and independently sufficient reasons’ for the rescission, only the first of which is the conclusion that DACA is illegal.”
Roberts expanded on this later. “An agency must defend its actions based on the reasons it gave when it acted,” he wrote. “This is not the case for cutting corners to allow DHS to rely upon reasons absent from its original decision.”
Before the Supreme Court took up the case, a federal court in California had enjoined the rollback, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. Courts in New York and Washington, D.C., also found the Trump administration had overstepped, while a court in Maryland sided with the administration.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose office helped lead a coalition of states challenging the DACA winddown, said the decision is the culmination of a hard-fought legal struggle.
“The Supreme Court’s decision today sets aside an inhumane injustice by the Trump administration and permits young people who go to school here, who work here, who pay taxes here, who raise families here, and who are vital members of our communities to continue to be able to live in their homes without fear of arrest or deportation,” James said in a statement. “America is a country of immigrants; our culture made richer by their contributions and our economy made more prosperous because of their work.”
Gibson Dunn attorney Theodore Olson, representing those individuals and private companies who brought suits to preserve DACA, said the court’s decision is critical to people who have built lives based on its protections.
“DACA has brought stability, predictability and dignity to the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” Olson said in a statement. “It has allowed them to work, build small businesses, support their families, further their educations, serve in the military and contribute to their communities and to the economy of the only place most of them have ever called home.”
Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito each included partial dissents while also signing onto to a partial dissent from Justice Clarence Thomas, who accused the majority of mounting “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. “Instead, the majority has decided to prolong DHS’ initial overreach by providing a stopgap measure of its own. In doing so, it has given the green light for future political battles to be fought in this court rather than where they rightfully belong — the political branches.”
Thomas also took issue with the majority’s focus on the degree to which Homeland Security discussed the benefits DACA provides as well as forbearance from removal — “even though no such detailed discussion accompanied DACA’s issuance.”
“The majority’s demand for such an explanation here simply makes little sense,” he added.
Thomas called it “more than sufficient” that Homeland Security determined that DACA was ultra vires, a legal term from Latin that describes an action made without requisite legal authority.
“By requiring more, the majority has distorted the APA review process beyond recognition, further burdening all future attempts to rescind unlawful programs,” Thomas wrote, abbreviating the Administrative Procedure Act.
For students like Gabriel Tarango-Gonzales, a 29-year-old business administration major at California State University, Los Angeles, the ruling would need time to sink in.
“We’re still not finished, we still have to advocate for the ones who are left behind,” Tarango-Gonzales said. “We know it’s not the end, but it’s a positive outcome to move in unity to help all our community for their rights.”
Joseph Edlow, who is deputy policy director at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said Thursday that the court had “merely delayed” Trump’s repeal of the program.
“DACA was created through an Executive Branch memorandum after President Obama said repeatedly that it was illegal for him to do so unilaterally and despite the fact that Congress affirmatively rejected the proposal on multiple occasions,” Edlow said in a statement. “The constitutionality of this de facto amnesty program created by the Obama administration has been widely questioned since its inception.”
Later Thursday, Trump suggested the ruling would not be the last word on the DACA program.
“As president of the United States, I am asking for a legal solution on DACA, not a political one, consistent with the rule of law,” Trump tweeted. “The Supreme Court is not willing to give us one, so now we have to start this process all over again.”
Courthouse News reporter Nathan Solis contributed reporting from Los Angeles.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.