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Immigration 101: DACA and the Supreme Court

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Latest Update: 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”. Read our press statement here. And read the full decision here.

However, a new memo was issued in July 2020 by the Trump administration 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 is that the program is being killed in phases and the future of DACA is still in Jeopardy. 

Originally published November 8, 2019; last updated June 18, 2020

In November 2019, the Supreme Court reviewed a consolidated case regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, (DACA). Earlier that year, in June, the Court had decided to review three lower-court decisions examining whether Donald Trump’s 2017 termination of DACA was legal. In June 2020, the Court ruled in favor of DACA and against the Trump Administration, finding that Trump had provided an inadequate explanation for ending the program.


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 DACA. A court ruling allowed immigrant youth to continue applying for DACA renewal, if they already had DACA status. But those who aged into the program, or those who were eligible but had never applied, were shut out from starting new applications.

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, et al. v. Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS), 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, andalso 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 the case in November.

The ruling

By many counts, the DACA program has been a wildly successful one. In the years after DACA was first won, immigrant youth bought houses and cars, landed better-paying jobs, built businesses and started families. 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.

The decision did leave the door open for the Trump Administration to try again, by signing a new executive order containing better arguments justifying DACA’s recission. And, just days later, Trump did announce his plans to go after DACA again — within the next six months. That timeline likely pushes any future Court order on DACA until after the 2020 election, meaning that voting Trump out of office will be crucial for advocates who want to ensure the longevity of the program.

Meanwhile, advocates are pushing the Senate to push the Dream and Promise Act, which the House passed in May 2019 and would grant immigrant youth and TPS recipients a path to citizenship — and the Heroes Act, which the House passed in May 2020 and would grant immigrant workers and their families a number of protections. 

Roberts’ ruling also means that the Trump Administration should start accepting new DACA applications again — 66,000 immigrant youth have aged into the program since its 2017 recission — though it’s unclear how or when Trump may be forced to act.

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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