US colleges welcome Supreme Court rejection of Trump bid to end Daca

Upholding of immigration protections, after challenge led by University of California, means legal relief for about 200,000 students

June 18, 2020
Source: Paul Basken
US Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court has blocked the Trump administration from ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era programme that protects from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the US as children, including many current students.

Following a challenge to the president’s plans led by the University of California, the nation’s highest court, in a 5-4 ruling, said that the administration did not follow legal requirements for handling the effects on its beneficiaries of ending the programme, known as Daca.

That failure, the court said in a 74-page ruling issued by Chief Justice John Roberts, “raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner”. The administration’s move against Daca was “arbitrary and capricious”, the court ruled.

The decision came in a case initiated by the University of California, combined with elements of other cases, concerning the fate of some 700,000 people who were brought to the US by their families as children and raised as Americans, and yet lack the legal right to remain.

Because of their age – beneficiaries could be no older than 31 at the time Daca was established in 2012 – many of them are current or former students at both grade-school and college levels.

A study earlier this year by the research and advocacy group New American Economy, and by a group of institutional leaders known as the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, estimated that some 454,000 undocumented immigrants are enrolled as students at US colleges and universities, with nearly half being eligible for Daca protection.

The US university community was widely supportive of Daca, filing legal briefs with the Supreme Court in support of the programme, which institutions noted as being critical to helping such students obtain federal financial and other benefits.

The Daca policy, created by President Obama in 2012, represented an attempt to resolve the fates of such immigrants by allowing them to remain in the US if they avoided other legal problems.

Mr Trump has taken a range of positions on that policy. He campaigned in 2016 with a promise to end Daca, then declared in 2017 that it made no sense to evict “educated and accomplished young people who have jobs”. He subsequently called on Congress to craft a permanent version of Daca, and then ordered the policy’s elimination.

The University of California’s challenge to that order was led by its system president, Janet Napolitano, who helped create Daca while serving as secretary of homeland security in the Obama administration.

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said: “We are extremely gratified that the US Supreme Court has acted decisively to keep in place the Daca policy, and in doing so protected Daca recipients, those outstanding young individuals who contribute so much to our country. As the justices noted, the Trump administration’s decision to rescind Daca was arbitrary and capricious, and failed to provide the justification needed to terminate the program.”

But he added that “now, in the wake of this momentous and welcome ruling, Congress must finally act to give permanent legislative protection” to those offered temporary protection by Daca.

Pending the Supreme Court’s ruling, lower courts had issued preliminary injunctions requiring the administration to continue observing Daca.

The uncertainty nevertheless was seen as traumatising for Daca beneficiaries, who were required to admit their presence in the US and register with the government to obtain its benefits. About half those estimated to be eligible for Daca eventually did sign up.

Backers of Daca beneficiaries note, as did Mr Trump at one point, their economic value to the US, which includes federal, state and local tax payments estimated by the Center for American Progress to total nearly $9 billion (£7 billion) a year.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case last November, with its conservative majority asking questions that experts took as suggesting a willingness to accept the Trump administration call to end the programme.

Such a decision likely would have put heavy political pressure on Congress to quickly find a permanent solution that avoids a round of mass deportations of people to countries where they have little or no personal familiarity. Longer-term legal debates over the shape of government policy toward childhood arrivals still remain, however, as Daca remains an executive policy rather than a law approved by Congress.

In the days and weeks ahead of the decision, major global and national events may have raised the pressure on the Supreme Court justices, despite their institutional neutrality, to move cautiously.

One is the coronavirus pandemic, which emphasised the importance of immigrants and other low-wage labourers in staffing the nation’s healthcare system and other vital services. The court agreed in March to accept an additional filing on the importance of that topic.

The other event was the killing by a Minneapolis police officer of George Floyd, which led to days of street protests in cities across the US that drew renewed attention to the nation’s biased treatment of its non-white population.

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