Washington Watch: DACA stays

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In a huge and unanticipated win for Dreamers, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Trump administration failed to comply with administrative legal requirements when it rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The Court vacated the DACA rescission, essentially reinstating DACA, at least temporarily.

The case, Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California, consolidated three lawsuits challenging the administration’s action. The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) joined with 43 other higher education associations in filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court detailing the ways in which DACA had benefitted Dreamer students.

The immediate impact of the opinion is unclear currently. Notably, the opinion affirms the judgement of the Washington, D.C., federal district court, which ordered the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to once again accept new DACA applications in addition to processing renewals. The opinion does not prevent the administration from rescinding the program again, but how quickly it could do so is uncertain.

‘Arbitrary and capricious’

Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by the four liberal-leaning justices, authored the majority opinion. It found that DHS’s DACA rescission was “arbitrary and capricious” because its original justification was entirely based on the Department of Justice’s finding that certain aspects of the program were illegal. The Court held that DHS’ stated reasons for rescinding DACA failed to consider whether other aspects of the program should be retained, and also failed to consider the reliance on DACA that recipients had formed over time.

An 8-1 majority of the court, however, found that the DACA rescission was not spurred by constitutionally impermissible racial animus towards DACA recipients. Only Justice Sonia Sotomayor found that it was. Therefore, today’s ruling against the administration rests solely on the court’s finding that it violated the Administrative Procedure Act.

Legislative action still needed

Even with today’s major legal victory in hand, advocates for Dreamer students, including AACC, continue to stress that the ultimate solution to their plight is only through legislative action. Not all Dreamers are eligible for DACA, nor does the program provide them a path to citizenship. Only the Dream Act or similar legislation can accomplish those goals.

About the Author

Jim Hermes
is associate vice president of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.