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Immigration 101: DACA and the Supreme Court

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Originally published November 8, 2019; last updated March 11, 2021 


In June 2012, President Barack Obama announced the start of DACA, which allows undocumented young adults who came to the United States as children to apply for protection from deportation. Obama’s executive action did not create a pathway to citizenship, but merely a shield from deportation where DACA status must be renewed every two years. Along with deferral of removal from the U.S., those with DACA were also granted work permits. 

As of June 2019, there were a total of 660,880 DACA recipients. On September 5, 2017, the Trump administration announced the termination of the program. Subsequently, a number of court rulings allowed immigrant youth to continue applying for DACA renewal if they already had the status, but those who aged into the program, or those who were eligible but had never applied, were shut out completely. 

As a result of this decision to terminate DACA, multiple lawsuits were filed by DACA recipients, advocates, and academic institutions. There were various cases filed against the termination of DACA, including Regents of the University of California, Batalla Vidal v. Nielsen, and NAACP v. Trump.

Federal district courts in each of these cases issued preliminary injunctions to temporarily stop the Trump administration from ending DACA while the merits of cases were considered. The Trump administration appealed each of these cases, and took the unusual step of seeking review by the Supreme Court — a request for certiorari — before the circuit courts finished their review, a process normally reserved for unique circumstances.  

Although the Supreme Court denied the Trump administration’s first certiorari request in the University of California case, it ultimately granted certiorari in the three aforementioned cases in June 2019 and heard oral arguments in November 2019. 

The ruling

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of DACA and against the Trump administration in June 2020, saying that the manner in which Trump ended DACA was “arbitrary and capricious.” Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the DACA opinion, found that these gains comprised “reliance interests” which the Trump administration could not simply take away without providing a clear reason why doing so is necessary. This was a pivotal moment for the DACA community as their status was no longer contested by law, and it would open the possibility for new undocumented youth to apply. 

Despite the good news, the Trump administration was not too far behind with another roadblock. DHS released a memo shortly after in July 2020, that barred new applicants and reduced renewal periods from two years to one. While the Trump team tried to spin the new policy as an extension of DACA, the reality was that the program was being killed in phases and placed the future of DACA in jeopardy. 

By December 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) updated its guidance in accordance with an order from Judge Nicholas Garaufis (and the Supreme Court’s ruling in June), to accept new applications from Dreamers into the DACA program. DACA opponents are continuing their effort to upend Dreamers’ lives with the upcoming hearing from Judge Andrew Hanen as the next threat on the horizon. However, with new DACA applications officially open and Biden’s commitment to protect the status, there are reasons to celebrate. 


DHS has started processing new DACA applications —  which is great news for the 66,000 immigrant youth who have aged into the program since its 2017 rescission. Meanwhile, advocates are pushing the Senate to pass the Dream and Promise Act, which the House passed in March 2021 and would grant immigrant youth and TPS recipients a path to citizenship. 

To get involved in the fight for the Dream and Promise Act, follow this toolkit>>

Ultimately, the story for Dreamers and immigrant youth remains the same as it has for the last eight years: DACA must be protected and Congress must pass a permanent solution recognizing that their #HomeIsHere.

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