Supreme Court blocks Trump administration from ending DACA protections for Dreamers

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a 5-4 vote that the Trump administration cannot carry out its plan to shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that has allowed nearly 800,000 young people, known as Dreamers, to avoid deportation and remain in the U.S.

Chief Justice John Roberts was the swing vote in the 5-4 decision that deals a major legal defeat to President Donald Trump on the issue of immigration, a major focus of his domestic agenda. Roberts wrote in the decision that the government failed to give an adequate justification for ending the federal program. 

On September 5, 2017, President Trump ordered an end to the DACA program. The program shields some young undocumented immigrants, many who arrived in the U.S. at a very young age in circumstances beyond their control, from deportation. In 2012, President Obama issued the DACA executive order.

After the Trump administration ordered an end to DACA, several lawsuits were filed against the termination of DACA. Princeton University joined with Microsoft and Princeton graduate María Perales Sánchez in filing one of the early legal challenges in November 2017.

“Princeton University filed this suit because our success as a world-class teaching and research university depends on our ability to attract and support talented students from all backgrounds,” Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber said in a written statement about the Supreme Court decision. “Today’s carefully reasoned Supreme Court decision rightly protects DACA beneficiaries against arbitrary agency action. We welcome that decision, but we also know that the Dreamers’ future, and our own future, will depend on legislation that gives them a clear path to citizenship. Princeton will continue to advocate on behalf of DACA beneficiaries and the many other immigrants whose talent, hard work, and creativity contribute so vitally to this university and to our country.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling maintains the program and allows DACA recipients to renew their membership. The program offers them work authorization and temporary protection from deportation. The ruling leaves open the possibility that the Trump Administration could still end DACA in the future if it give a proper justification for doing so.

The recipients of DACA are young people who have grown up as Americans, identify themselves as Americans, and many speak only English and have no memory of or connection with the country where they were born. Under current immigration law, most of these young people had no way to gain legal residency even though they have lived in the U.S. most of their lives. DACA enables them to request consideration for deferred action that allows them to remain in the country for two years, subject to renewal. Recipients are eligible for work authorization and other benefits, and are shielded from deportation. The fee to request DACA is $495 every two years.

Since DACA began, 787,580 people have been approved for the program. To be eligible, applicants had to arrive in the U.S. before the age of 16, live in the U.S. since June 15 of 2007, and be under the age of 31 when the Department of Homeland Security enacted the policy in 2012. DACA applicants must provide evidence they were living in the U.S. at the prescribed times, provide proof of education and confirmation of their identities, and pass background, fingerprint, and other biometric checks.

Princeton University officials said they will continue to urge Congress to enact a legislative solution that provides permanent legal protections for Dreamers. In 2016, Eisgruber joined hundreds of colleges and universities in issuing a statement supporting DACA, and he advocated for the continuation of the DACA program in a 2017 letter to Trump. He also urged members of Congress to pass legislation that would provide legal status for immigrants living in the United States under Temporary Protected Status.  

Perales Sanchez, a Dreamer who graduated from Princeton in 2018 and now works at a Baltimore nonprofit that defends migrants’ rights, applauded the Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday but said a permanent solution is still needed that provides permanent legal protections for Dreamers and their families.

“Today, we celebrate a positive decision being well aware that we still need a permanent legislative solution that includes all 11 million of us — our families, our siblings, our parents, and folks who don’t fit the ‘Dreamer’ criteria,” Perales Sanchez said. “I’m in awe of the power of youth to bring about change, and while I celebrate SCOTUS for the decision, I remind myself that this couldn’t come about without the millions of folks putting racial and social justice first. We will keep fighting for a world that includes, celebrates, and uplifts us and see us as human beings.”