WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday dealt President Donald Trump a major setback on his hardline immigration policies, blocking his bid to end a program that protects from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants — often called “Dreamers” — who entered the United States illegally as children.
The justices on a 5-4 vote upheld lower court rulings that found that Trump’s 2017 move to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, created in 2012 by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, was unlawful.
Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberals in finding that the administration’s actions were “arbitrary and capricious” under a federal law called the Administrative Procedure Act.
The ruling means that the roughly 649,000 immigrants, mostly young Hispanic adults born in Mexico and other Latin American countries, currently enrolled in DACA will remain protected from deportation and eligible to obtain renewable two-year work permits.
The ruling does not prevent Trump from trying again to end the program. But his administration is unlikely to be able to end DACA before the Nov. 3 election in which Trump is seeking a second four-year term in office.
“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies. We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action,” Roberts wrote.
The ruling marks the second time this week that Roberts has ruled against Trump in a major case following Monday’s decision finding that gay and transgender workers are protected under federal employment law.
“These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives,” Trump wrote on Twitter after the DACA ruling.
The court’s four other conservatives including two Trump appointees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, dissented.
“Today’s decision must be recognized for what it is: an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in dissent.
Thomas, whose dissent was joined by Gorsuch and Justice Samuel Alito, said DACA itself was “substantively unlawful.”
Trump’s administration has argued that Obama exceeded his constitutional powers when he created DACA by executive action, bypassing Congress.
A collection of states including California and New York, people currently enrolled in DACA and civil rights groups all filed suit to block Trump’s plan to end the program. Lower courts in California, New York and the District of Columbia ruled against Trump and left DACA in place, finding that his move to revoke the program violated the Administrative Procedure Act.
Only one justice, liberal Sonia Sotamayor, embraced arguments made by plaintiffs that the policy may have been motivated by discriminatory bias against immigrants. Sotamayor is the court’s first Hispanic justice.
Trump has made his crackdown on legal and illegal immigration, including pursuing construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, a central part of his presidency and his 2020 re-election campaign.
DACA recipients and their supporters in Congress, including House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and in the business community welcomed the ruling and called for permanent protections to be enacted.
“I feel content. I think the decision was what we deserved, but at the same time I am also thinking we still have to defend the program,” said Melody Klingenfuss, a 26-year-old DACA recipient and organizer with the California Dream Network.
In New Hampshire
New Hampshire’s congressional delegation, Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, and Reps. Ann Kuster and Chris Pappas, all praised the ruling and called for legislation to make permanent the protections for people who were brought to the United States as children.
“Today’s decision will provide temporary relief for the thousands of Dreamers who have been living in fear, but we cannot stop here,” Pappas said.
“These young Americans are making contributions to our nation by serving in our military, working and paying taxes, and getting an education,” said Kuster. “It’s unconscionable for us to allow our broken immigration system and President Trump’s efforts to politicize this issue to jeopardize the lives and futures of these young Americans.”
In a statement, Shaheen said the majority of Americans supported a path to legal citizenship for DACA recipients. “Now that this ruling is behind us, Congress should move forward on that effort expeditiously,” Shaheen said.
“Unfortunately, Dreamers are still potentially vulnerable to further attacks from the administration,” Hassan said, “which is why Congress must pass the bipartisan DREAM Act to give these young people a path to citizenship.”
America Carrillo, 22, has lived in Manchester since her parents brought her to New Hampshire at age three.
“My parents gave up everything in Mexico to give me a better future,” Carrillo said.
The DACA program allowed Carrillo to get a driver’s license, and worry a little less about her immigration status as she works and studies to become a phlebotomist. But she does worry about deportation, especially as she starts her career.
“Am I going to be able to pursue it, or am I going to have to leave the country and start over?” Carrillo said. “This is the only country I know. If I went back, Mexico would be a foreign country to me.”
Union Leader staff writer Josie Albertson-Grove contributed to this report.