SCOTUS Prohibits Trump Administration From Winding Down DACA Program

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter 

The Supreme Court on Thursday released a highly anticipated decision on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, determining that the program must be upheld, at least for the time being. 

The decision serves as a rebuke to the Trump administration, which in 2017 sought to wind down the program and now offers a new level of certainty for the program’s roughly 644,000 participants. 

The 5-4 ruling delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts, who joined the court’s liberal justices, determined the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and that the administration’s effort to rescind DACA must be vacated, concluding that the effort was “arbitrary and capricious.”

The ruling did not, however, decide on the overall legality of the DACA program, and instead referred that question back to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), leaving the possibility open to future challenges.

“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” Robert’s opinion read. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action. 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. That dual failure raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner. The appropriate recourse is therefore to remand to DHS so that it may consider the problem anew. ”

According to an analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress (CAP) in April, more than 200,000 of those DACA recipients are working to protect the health and safety of Americans as the country confronts COVID-19.

DACA was established in 2012 through an executive order issued during the Obama administration and provided a way for individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to receive work permits and temporary protection from deportation. 

“Today, the Supreme Court handed down a decision that will protect hundreds of thousands of undocumented students — for now. For 20 years, NASFAA has stood with both Republicans and Democrats in support of undocumented students,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. “Dreamers were brought to this country by no choice of their own, have been raised on the same soil as other Americans, and ask only for the right to earn an education, work, and contribute to our society. While we applaud the court’s decision to uphold the program, it is not a permanent solution. Now is the time for Congress to come together and pass bipartisan legislation to codify protections for undocumented students.”

Congress in 2013 attempted to rewrite immigration law by offering a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, but ultimately failed when the House chose to not take up the Senate’s bipartisan measure. In 2017, the Trump administration announced its intent to end the program and called on Congress to develop a legislative solution. 

Since the Trump administration’s announcement, Congress has repeatedly tried to address the issue of immigration status for DACA recipients through a cadre of stop-start legislative attempts related to immigration reform and border security. 

During the last congressional session, the Republican-aligned body was unable to cobble together and advance any DACA protection package. Likewise, legislative solutions for the program during the current session of Congress, with Democrats in control of the House and Republicans holding the Senate, have yet to bring to fruition protection for the status of these individuals outside of the parameters aligned in the Obama administration’s executive order.

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education and former under secretary of education, said in a statement that Congress “must finally act to give permanent legislative protection to Dreamers.” 

“For far too long, lawmakers used the pending Supreme Court decision as an excuse for inaction. DACA recipients and other Dreamers, brought to our country as children and American in every way but their immigration status, have been languishing in unacceptable legal and political limbo,” Mitchell said. “In an era of partisan acrimony and polarization, there is widespread and bipartisan support for protecting Dreamers both on Capitol Hill and on Main Street. But for far too long, Dreamers have been held political hostage, unable to make long-term decisions about their education, jobs, or serving in the military.”

While this decision serves as a buoy for individuals who have participated in the program, DACA students pursuing higher education still must navigate how to receive financial aid in the wake of the novel coronavirus, since continued guidance from the Department of Education (ED) has excluded them from receiving emergency grants under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The guidance has been challenged in California and Washington state with ED urging the court to toss out the lawsuits due to its continued rulemaking and argued that should a judicial interpretation be made, it would “prematurely and irrevocably foreclose [ED’s] efforts to administer HEERF funds.” While a recent decision in the Washington case did not rule on the eligibility requirements related to citizenship, a ruling in the California case this week notably struck down ED’s policy that would prevent international students, those in the DACA program, and those living in the country illegally from receiving the emergency grants.

All this is happening while Congress begins consideration of another coronavirus aid package that could provide additional guidelines for ED to ensure student aid is allocated to this population.

Prior to the court’s decision, NASFAA joined a number of higher education groups in creating a new website, “Remember the Dreamers,” which is aimed at providing information and resources for students and institutions — including mental health resources — on what efforts are being made to help DACA students.

“This is great news. Hundreds of thousands of students, neighbors, & coworkers finally won’t have to live in fear of being forced to leave the only home they have known,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member on the Senate education committee, said in a tweet. “SCOTUS’s ruling allows our nation to fulfill its promise to these young people & help them reach their dreams.”


Publication Date: 6/18/2020

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