Fourth Circuit Rules Against Trump Rollback of DACA

In this Aug. 15, 2017, file photo, a woman holds up a signs in support of the Obama administration program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, during an immigration reform rally at the White House. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – In a win for so-called Dreamers, the Fourth Circuit ruled Friday that President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind a deportation-deferral program for qualifying young immigrants violated federal law because it was not “adequately explained.”

The ruling lines up with several other federal courts around the country that have put a stay on the Trump administration’s September 2017 termination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program adopted in 2012 that allowed more than 700,000 undocumented youth to get permits so they could work in the U.S.  

DACA recipients – referred to as Dreamers – filed the underlying lawsuit in Maryland, where a federal judge found that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. But their appeal to the Richmond, Virginia-based Fourth Circuit convinced a majority of the three-judge panel to reverse the lower court.

“We…agree with the district court that the government’s decision to rescind DACA did not require notice and comment under the [Administrative Procedures Act]. But the decision nonetheless violated the APA because—on the administrative record before us—it was not adequately explained and thus was arbitrary and capricious,” U.S. Circuit Judge Albert Diaz, a Barack Obama appointee, wrote for the majority.

Friday’s 2-1 ruling is in line a decision from the Ninth Circuit last November, in which the San Francisco-based appeals court upheld a nationwide injunction blocking the Trump administration from ending DACA.

In the 36-page opinion, Judge Diaz rejected the government’s argument that precedent in the 1999 Supreme Court decision Reno v. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and other cases means the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the plaintiffs’ claims.  

The judge noted the Reno decision involved immigrants facing actual removal from the country, not those who could be subject to such removal, as is the case with Dreamers.

“Those cases involved challenges to individual ‘no deferred action’ decisions by aliens adjudicated removable,” he wrote. “The government’s reliance on [them] is therefore misplaced.”

After deciding the panel could rule on DACA’s rescission, Diaz pointed to the context of the Trump administration’s rollback.

The government argued the policy change was based on the Department of Homeland Security’s view that DACA was unlawful. But Diaz said the memo that made this assertion did not mention any issues the policy created.

“The Department had before it at the time it rescinded DACA a reasoned analysis from the office tasked with providing legal advice to all executive branch agencies that supported the policy’s legality,” the judge wrote. “Yet the Department changed course without any explanation for why that analysis was faulty.”

Diaz also wrote that a memo from then-Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke did not take into consideration “the reliance interests that would be affected by” the rescission of DACA.

“Hundreds of thousands of people had structured their lives on the availability of deferred action during the over five years between the implementation of DACA and the decision to rescind,” the ruling states. “Accordingly, we hold that the Department’s decision to rescind DACA was arbitrary and capricious and must be set aside.”

Diaz was joined in the majority by U.S. Circuit Judge Robert King, a Bill Clinton appointee.

U.S. Circuit Judge Julius N. Richardson, a Trump appointee, used his dissent to push back with full force on the majority’s findings.

He called the DACA rollback “precisely the sort of enforcement decision” that falls outside of the purview of courts.

“The Executive need not explain why it makes particular enforcement and non-enforcement decisions,” he wrote. “The Judicial Branch cannot bootstrap review of decisions committed to the discretion of the other branches simply because the reasons provided are of a type that judges consider themselves competent to evaluate.”

In a statement to Courthouse News, Sulma Arias of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, one of the plaintiffs in the case, applauded the ruling. 

“As we celebrate this good news, we know that immigrant communities need permanent protections now,” Arias said. “Trump’s inhumane move to end DACA put millions of people at risk of deportation, throwing them into legal limbo while awaiting Congress to act.”

The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.

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