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Supreme Court DACA Ruling Explained

Protesters chant in front of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building during a rally after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, in Phoenix, June 18, 2020.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday against the Trump administration's bid to end a program that shields from deportation noncitizens brought to this country illegally as children.

On a 5-4 vote, the court said the government had erred procedurally and provided inadequate justification to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program that protects more than 700,000 immigrants.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas condemned the majority decision and called it an "effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision."

Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Samuel Alito joined Thomas in the partial dissent. Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote a separate partial dissent.

"The Court could have made clear that the solution respondents seek must come from the Legislative Branch. Instead, the majority has decided to prolong [the Department of Homeland Security's] initial overreach by providing a stopgap measure of its own," Thomas wrote.

DACA recipients and their supporters take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, June 18, 2020.
DACA recipients and their supporters take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, June 18, 2020.

What did the court do?

It ruled narrowly that the administration did not follow procedure, not that DACA recipients have a permanent right to live in the United States.

What is the ultimate impact of the ruling?

The ruling, immigration attorneys said, has DACA recipients and their families breathing easier, for now, but it does not mean the administration will not attempt to end the program again.

According to legal experts, it appears that the Supreme Court's decision serves to reinstate DACA following the 2012 criteria. These cover new applications and renewals. In both instances, an applicant had to have arrived in the U.S. before turning 16 and be no older than 30 when first applying for the program. For example, a person who arrived in the U.S. at age 5 and was 25 years old when the program started in 2012 would meet the age requirement. Other requirements included no criminal convictions and current enrollment in high school or a diploma from a U.S. high school.

Besides protecting an individual from deportation, the program also allows its recipients to obtain authorization to work in the U.S. and to accrue "lawful presence."

"We are waiting to see how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will respond, and whether they will take action again to try to terminate DACA or otherwise limit the benefits associated with the program," Sarah Paoletti, an expert on asylum law and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, told VOA.

Paoletti added that in the meantime, "it is incumbent on DHS to reopen procedures for new DACA applications, and for Advance Parole applications for those with DACA." Advance parole means DACA recipients can travel outside the country with permission from the U.S. government to pursue educational, humanitarian and employment opportunities abroad.

What did the court address?

Laura Collins, director of the Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute, told VOA that while DACA stands for now, the question was never whether the administration has the ability to rescind DACA.

"The administration and all the parties agreed this administration can rescind executive orders from prior administrations, but the court found that they didn't follow proper procedures," she said.

Collins, who worked at the Republican National Committee for the 2012 election cycle and served as the director of immigration policy at the American Action Forum, said the Supreme Court agreed the courts have the ability to review these executive actions.

"The [Trump] administration rescinded DACA and took steps to make that happen. And so, one of the questions before the court was: Is this even legally reviewable or can they just do it because they want to? And the court found, yes, they could review it," Collins said.

Collins added that the second question addressed whether the government followed the Administrative Procedures Act when they did the rescission.

"And the court found they did not," she said.

DACA recipient reacts

Hugo Lagarda is now 28. He arrived in the U.S. from Chihuahua, Mexico, with his parents and siblings when he was 5 years old. A DACA recipient who lives in Houston, Texas, and works in sports marketing, he said that although it was amazing to hear the court's decision, the fight is not over.

Hugo Lagarda, a DACA recipient from Chihuahua, Mexico, was brought to the U.S. at 5 years old and raised in Houston, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Hugo Lagarda)
Hugo Lagarda, a DACA recipient from Chihuahua, Mexico, was brought to the U.S. at 5 years old and raised in Houston, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Hugo Lagarda)

"I still have to deal with the pressures of just having DACA, but just to get the sign of relief, especially in these times, is a blessing. It's really great," Lagarda said. "Sometimes, you know, DACA [status] almost feels like a half-rate citizenship or a half-rate ticket to be here. ... So I'm happy and I'm glad and it's great, but we have a lot of work to [do] to make sure that we can actually become Americans like we are."

Lagarda and Dana Jaramillo – a former DACA recipient – are the hosts of the "Deferred Action" podcast. The name refers to DACA's full title, and the show presents stories of DACA recipients, aiming to make them relatable.

"When [DACA] is spoken about in the news or in politics, everyone just says 'DACA recipients,' and we really are a political bargaining chip and we have been for some time. So it's a matter of humanizing the community, because when we're humanized, there is more at stake," Lagarda told VOA.

Some are disappointed

U.S. President Donald Trump posted on Twitter on Thursday afternoon to say he wanted "a legal solution on DACA, not a political one, consistent with the rule of law. The Supreme Court is not willing to give us one, so now we have to start this process all over again."

NumbersUSA, a group advocating restrictive immigration policies, said it was "disappointed" with the Supreme Court's majority opinion.

"The Court's decision to require the administration to jump through additional procedural hoops to terminate an unlawful program that was created without jumping through those same hoops makes no sense," Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations at NumbersUSA, said in a statement.