A ruling on Thursday by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked President Trump’s efforts to rescind DACA protections, the 2012 policy protecting those who were brought to the United States illegally as children from being deported. The panel of three judges upheld a preliminary injunction against the measure by a lower court, one which the administration had sought to override by appealing directly to the Supreme Court. The Ninth Circuit Court has dealt the administration a number of blows over the course of the past two years, and Republicans often accuse the court of maintaining a political bias. The ruling is a major victory for the more than 700,000 immigrants who are able to live and work in the United States because of DACA, who would otherwise almost certainly face deportation to their parents’ home countries – places which they in many cases do not know.
The decision offered a harsh rebuff of the Trump administration’s attempt not only to scrap DACA, but to argue that the courts had no jurisdiction in the matter. Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote in the opinion that the DACA policy was originally enacted to avoid the “cruelty and wastefulness of deporting productive young people to countries with which they have no ties,” and that the new administration had arbitrarily decided both that DACA was illegal from the outset that its legality was not subject to review by the judicial branch.
“With due respect for the Executive Branch, we disagree,” Wardlaw wrote. “The government may not simultaneously both assert that its actions are legally compelled, based on its interpretation of the law, and avoid review of that assertion by the judicial branch.”
The Justice Department issued a statement expressing its intent to continue the legal battle. “While we are disappointed with today’s ruling, we are pleased that the court has finally acted and that the Supreme Court now can consider our petition for review,” said department spokesperson Steven J. Stafford. Stafford added that the department looked forward to “vindicating [its] position before the Supreme Court.” The department had submitted a petition for review to the Supreme Court a few days prior to the ruling in an attempt to outstep the appellate courts. While the Court did not weigh in before Thursday’s decision, it had rejected a similar petition in February – prior to the appointment of Justice Kavanaugh – in order to allow the appeals process to play out.
It does seem like the success or failure of the DACA program, and the fate of the hundreds of thousands of people it protects, will eventually be decided by the Supreme Court. The case, as it stands, is made up of three separate cases brought by California, the University of California, and a group of people protected by DACA, often referred to as “Dreamers.” The various plaintiffs argued that the administration’s attempt to bring a summary end to the program violated the equal protections clause of the Constitution, because of its targeted impact on Latinos.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Hashim Mooppan argued that the Trump administration was not compelled to take into account who the termination of the program would affect, because the program itself was the product of illegal executive action under Obama. “It’s a question of an agency saying, ‘We’re not going to have a policy that might well be illegal.’ That is a perfectly rational thing to do,” he said during a hearing in May.
Rights groups celebrated the victory which, while far from conclusive, has stretched out the process and made it all the more difficult for the administration to succeed in its efforts. “We’ve always known: Trump’s decision to kill #DACA was wrong and that his sole motivation was to deport 800,000 people of color,” said the Dreamers activist group United We Dream Action on Twitter. “Today, it has been reaffirmed by another Federal Court. #HereToStay.”
“Nobody in the country is suffering because of the presence of young people. There’s no imperative,” said Mark Rosenbaum, who represented a group of the plaintiffs. “This is just cruelty that serves no national purpose.” Mr. Rosenbaum also argued that the administration’s attempt to skip the the appeals process was unprecedented in cases that did not have some bearing on national security.
According to California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, the state is home to one quarter of all DACA-protected people nationwide. Becerra, along with the attorneys general of Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota, argued the case on behalf of his state. He pointed out that the injunction itself had already been a success because it had forced the federal government to continue processing people’s DACA renewal applications in January, something it had temporarily stopped doing. “We want all Americans and all Dreamers to know that whatever comes next we will continue to fight on their behalf to ensure that they can remain as working, contributing members of our society,” he said.
DACA was enacted by President Obama in 2012 amidst frustration that Congress had not managed to pass equivalent legislation. Designed to protect people who grow up in the United States from being arbitrarily deported, the program allows immigrants to live and work in the country so long as they maintain a clean criminal record and meet certain education requirements. It does not offer a path to citizenship.