The Supreme Court’s decision today rejects the Trump administration’s haphazard efforts to undo the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) program, which provided a reprieve from deportation for hundreds of thousands of immigrants, known as the Dreamers, who came to the United States before the age of 16.
The DACA program was designed as a stopgap measure after Congress failed, year after year, to pass legislation to protect Dreamers. While it is nowhere near as good as legislation that would put them on a path to permanent residence, it has allowed these young people to work lawfully (an estimated 27,000 of them are on the health care front lines fighting COVID-19), to pursue higher education, and to establish their lives with more confidence than they could ever have had living in the shadows. Today’s decision lets them keep doing so for the foreseeable future.
The Court did not uphold DACA because a majority of the court agrees with the constitutionality of the DACA program. Instead, it focuses more narrowly on how the administration decided to rescind the program. The Court emphasizes the need for accountability and integrity in the government’s dealings with “the people,” and criticizes the government for relying on justifications developed after it decided to rescind DACA: “An agency must defend its actions based on the reasons it gave when it acted. This is not the case for cutting corners to allow DHS to rely upon reasons absent from its original decision.” (Emphasis added, from page 17 of the decision).
The Court also determined that the administration’s action was “arbitrary and capricious” as a matter of administrative law. In other words, while the executive may have powers to do and undo many actions, it must do so with some level of thoughtfulness. Thoughtfulness is, of course, in short supply in the Trump administration’s approach to immigration.
Today’s decision telegraphs to the Trump administration that the Supreme Court will not endorse its ramshackle efforts to remake the immigration system via ill-conceived executive orders that are so often illegal on their face. Just this month, the administration released a proposed rule that effectively ends the asylum system as we know it—in contravention of both the Refugee Convention and the 1980 Refugee Act that brought that Convention into domestic law. Today’s DACA decision makes clear that the Supreme Court will take seriously the inevitable challenges to that rule.
Today is a good day for Dreamers. It is also a good day for the rule of law.