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The US Supreme Court Gives Dreamers Hope

Attorney: Sadaf A. Nejat, Soniya D. Khemlani, Laurie E. Sherwood | Published 6.19.20

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court gave Dreamers and their families an important victory when it vacated the Department of Homeland Security’s (“DHS”) rescission of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) reasoning that DHS’s decision to do so was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”).

DACA is an immigration relief program promulgated in 2012 which allows certain immigrants who arrived in the US as children to apply for a two-year forbearance from removal. Those granted relief are also eligible for work authorization and certain federal benefits. Currently, DACA protects some 700,000 Dreamers from deportation.

In 2017, the Attorney General advised DHS to rescind DACA as he concluded it was unlawful, specifically as to Dreamers’ eligibility for benefits. DHS issued a memorandum terminating the program on that basis. What followed were challenges by affected individuals and third parties who argued, among other things, that DHS violated the APA by failing to adequately address important factors bearing on its decision. Hundreds of parties filed amicus briefs in support.

In a 5 to 4 decision with Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. delivering the opinion of the Court, the Court agreed. It concluded DHS failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance (which the Attorney General did not deem unlawful) and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients. The Court reasoned the failure to consider these factors raised doubts about whether DHS appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner. This rendered the decision to rescind arbitrary and capricious under the APA.  Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor joined in the majority opinion.

Ultimately, this decision does not reflect the Court’s position on whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies, making clear that “the wisdom of those decisions is none of their concern [internal quotations omitted].” Nonetheless, it is cause for a sigh of relief (albeit potentially temporary) for Dreamers and their families all over the Country.

Walsworth attorneys and the firm’s Pro Bono Committee are proud of our efforts to support and stand with Dreamers, including our participation in the Public Law Center’s DACA Renewal Clinics, and our ongoing contributions to the work that firms like Public Law Center, Public Counsel, and Bay Area Legal Aid are doing in our communities for Dreamers and beyond.