The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against the Trump administration's efforts to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, declaring in a 5-to-4 opinion that the 2012 initiative was inappropriately terminated by the Trump administration.
The court's decision comes nearly three years after Trump announced he was terminating the policy, known as DACA, that has protected more than 130,000 Texans from deportation since its inception, the second-highest total of any state after California. As of December 2019, there were about 107,000 Texans with DACA permits, according to federal statistics.
Trump's reason for ending the program echoed what many Republicans, including some in Texas, said when it was enacted: immigration law is under the purview of the U.S. Congress and that former President Barack Obama exceeded his authority when he initially enacted DACA.
The program has provided a legal shield to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought into the U.S. as children; it was open to undocumented immigrants who came to the country before they were 16 and who were 30 or younger as of June 2012. The program gave them a renewable, two-year work permit and a reprieve from deportation.
Javier Quiroz Castro, a 29-year-old DACA recipient and registered nurse at Houston Methodist West who's been on the front lines treating COVID-19 patients, said he was walking out of a hospital room when he first heard the news.
"A co-worker said, 'Hey man, congratulations!' and at first I was in shock, I was like 'Are you serious? This can’t be real,'" said Quiroz Castro, who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 3 years old.
"I got very emotional and I had to go hide. It’s a really busy floor," he added. "I just had to cry it out. It just feels really good to know that there is way more support and so many people that really want me here."
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion that the justices did not consider whether the program itself was legal when implemented in 2012, but instead they considered whether the Trump administration followed proper procedure when it ended DACA.
“We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action,” he wrote. “Here the agency failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients.”
Roberts joined the court’s more liberal justices in the majority opinion, while Trump’s appointees, Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, sided with Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.
On Twitter, the president responded to the decision by asking his followers if they had the “impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?” He also tweeted that the “horrible [and] politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives.”
He later added that as president, he was seeking a "legal solution" on DACA rather than a political one. "The Supreme Court is not willing to give us one, so now we have to start this process all over again," he tweeted.
Immigrant rights groups and Texas Democrats immediately cheered the decision.
“This is a major win for both individuals and families who have spent years fighting for justice,” the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights said in a statement. “In light of unprecedented economic and health inequities facing our black and brown communities, this victory illustrates progress towards more inclusive and pro-immigrant policies.”
“It is fiercely American to look out and protect one another. Our DREAMers have always deserved the same protections as anybody else and now they will get those protections they deserve. We applaud the Supreme Court for making the right decision," added Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.
But supporters of the program also warned the celebrations will be temporary because a permanent legislative fix is still needed.
“Today, the U.S. Supreme Court made the right decision by standing alongside these young immigrants and allowing the DACA program to continue,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. “Unfortunately, this extension is still temporary and permanent legislative action from Congress is needed.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement that his office would keep fighting to have DACA declared unconstitutional in a separate case filed in Texas’ federal courts.
“We are disappointed in today’s SCOTUS decision but it does not resolve the underlying issue that president Obama’s original executive order exceeded his constitutional authority we look forward to continue litigating the issue our case now pending in the southern district of Texas,” he said.
Paxton’s office successfully stopped a similar 2014 Obama-era program that would have expanded DACA benefit to millions of adults.
Jaqueline Watson, an Austin-based immigration attorney who’s been aiding DACA applicants since the program was first announced, said the decision was unexpected and a welcome relief. But she added that the Trump administration could try again, though it would be a race against the clock before the November election.
“It’s time consuming, that’s the thing. Public notice and comment, it’s set out in the [Administrative Procedures Act],” she said. “it’s doable, but who knows how much time that would take. But it also opens the process up to more litigation.”
Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said he expects Trump to try to end DACA again, but the real focus in now on Congress to pass legislation permanently protects DACA recipients.
“I think Trump is the only Republican who thinks that rescinding DACA is good politics. And I can definitely see that Trump and the [White House advisor] Stephen Miller faction restarting the process,” he said. “That’s why I don’t think Congress is let off the hook. There is deep bipartisan support across the county for the program.”
After the ruling, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, blasted Roberts and called the ruling "disgraceful."
"Judging is not a game. It's not supposed to be a game," he said. "But sadly, over recent years, more and more Chief Justice Roberts has been playing games with the court to achieve the policy outcomes he desires."
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, blamed former President Barack Obama for creating DACA through executive action rather than working with Congress. He spoke sympathetically about finding a solution for DACA recipients, commonly referred to as "dreamers."
"It's going to take buy-in from the Senate, the House and the White House," he said. "I've been having conversations for years about this topic, but most recently, I've been having conversations about the most efficient and effective way to protect these young people in the long term, and I'm willing to work with anyone — Republican or Democrat — who's interested in solving the problem."
Abby Livingston contributed to this story.
Clarification: A previous headline on this story stated that the court ruling protects 130,000 Texans from deportation, which is the number of DACA recipients in Texas since the program's inception. The most recent number is 107,000.