SCOTUS Decision: Court Preserves DACA Program… For Now

The case of Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California concerned the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program initiated by the Obama administration. DACA was created in 2012 to allow certain children who enter the United States illegally to apply for a two-year forbearance of removal. Approximately 700,000 people had received DACA relief over the course of that program. Then, in 2017, the Department of Homeland Security decided to terminate the program and all granted benefits due to concerns that it violated the Immigration and Nationality Act. Several groups sued in three different federal courts, claiming that the DACA termination was arbitrary and capricious, and infringed on the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. During that litigation, DHS issued additional reasons for the rescission. Nevertheless, the Government’s argument to dismiss the cases lost in all three courts.

The Court, in a 5-4 majority opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, held that DHS’ decision to end the DACA program was arbitrary and capricious, and so remanded the cases for further litigation. Specifically, the majority held that although DHS was correct that DACA violated the INA because it provided benefits to illegal immigrants, that did not mean that DHS should have also terminated forbearance benefits already provided to prior applicants, which would cause great hardship to those beneficiaries. The decision to terminate both was arbitrary and capricious, and rejected DHS’ subsequent explanations as “post-hoc rationalizations.” The Court rejected the equal protection argument by an 8-1 vote—Justice Sotomayor filed a concurrence arguing that the equal protection claims should not be dismissed. Justice Thomas, joined by Justices Alito and Gorsuch, dissented in part, arguing that DACA was not the product of the proper rulemaking process in the first place, so rescinding the unlawful program was reasonable. Justice Alito filed a short dissent expressing frustration that the majority’s decision was essentially telling DHS “to go back and try again . . . without holding that DACA cannot be rescinded.” Justice Kavanaugh filed a dissent arguing that DHS’ decision was not arbitrary and capricious because the reasoning had been adequately explained by the subsequent reasoning offered.

A link to the opinion is here: