Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include a statement that was submitted shortly after publication.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 18 that the Trump administration’s approach to ending the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was improper.
The 5-4 SCOTUS decision is the culmination of a more than two-year legal evaluation of the Trump administration’s efforts to rescind DACA.
DACA originated in an executive order issued by President Barack Obama on June 15, 2012, which offered temporary legal status to those who came to be called “Dreamers” – undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before age 16.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a letter on Sept. 4, 2017, to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) calling DACA “an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch” and asserting “DHS should consider an orderly and efficient wind-down process.”
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine C. Duke responded by issuing a memorandum the next day, stating that DHS would no longer enforce DACA.
As explained in the June 18, 2020, SCOTUS ruling, Duke’s Sept. 5, 2017, memo said “DHS would no longer accept new applications, but that existing DACA recipients whose benefits were set to expire within six months could apply for a two-year renewal. For all other DACA recipients, previously issued grants of relief would expire on their own terms, with no prospect for renewal.”
Lawsuits were filed to challenge the administration’s action, asserting that rescinding DACA “was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and infringed the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.”
As a result of these legal challenges, DACA has remained in place, but no new applications have been accepted.
The SCOTUS ruling emphasized while DACA could legally be rescinded, the process and legal justification by which the Trump administration had sought to do so was improper based on the APA – a law enacted on June 11, 1946, that is designed “to improve the administration of justice by prescribing fair administrative procedure.”
“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,” the majority opinion said in summarizing its decision.
“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.”
The full SCOTUS opinion can be found here.
EthicsDaily.com reached out to several faith leaders for their reaction and response to the court’s ruling:
“This ruling is encouraging for two distinct but equally important reasons,” said Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance.
“First of all, DACA itself reaffirms the humanity that is embedded in our country’s legacy,” he said. “Independent of the circumstances that brought the Dreamers to our country, they have invested themselves in what attracted their families: a belief that the United States offers everyone opportunities to thrive and values the life of every person. That’s a message especially worth hearing these days.
“Secondly, and perhaps paradoxically, this decision affirms that the United States is a nation of laws and not executive whims,” Moline noted. “The Supreme Court demonstrated that the good people who have devoted their efforts to public service, whether elected or appointed, are not prisoners of ideology, but committed to understanding the primacy of the law. There may be disagreements, but in the end, the law of the land is the law.”
“Thursday’s SCOTUS ruling has major implications for the Dreamers, and we rejoice with them,” said Nora Lozano, professor of theological studies at Baptist University of the Américas and executive director of the Christian Latina Leadership Institute in San Antonio, Texas.
“At the same time, we need to recognize also the wider implications of this ruling as it allows us to see a glimpse of the values of God’s reign here on earth: welcome the stranger, the abundant life, justice and the shalom of God for all of God’s creation,” she said.
“While this is a key ruling, we acknowledge that it is a temporary one. Thus, we need to continue moving forward with actions that will make this decision a permanent one,” Lozano noted. “Jesus struggled faithfully and passionately to promote the reign’s values, and as his followers, we need to do the same.”
Sue Smith has worked with immigrants for more than 17 years, meeting many DACA recipients in her role as a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel working with LUCHA Ministries in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
“The opportunities offered through DACA have encouraged them to work hard, continue their education and focus on their dreams for the future without fear of deportation,” she said. “DACA has provided hope for a generation of young immigrants. We must continue to work for a permanent immigration solution for these and other promising young immigrant leaders. Let us not forget our commitment to support not just the current DACA recipients, but all Dreamers.”
Marv Knox serves as coordinator of Fellowship Southwest, an intentionally ecumenical, multicultural, multiracial Cooperative Baptist Fellowship network.
“In this hard, harsh season, the Supreme Court’s decision provided a reason to cry tears of joy rather than sadness,” he said. “We rejoice in the court’s vote, which delivered happy news to 700,000 DACA recipients, as well as to all of us who love them and cherish their lives – each created in God’s image.
“May the salt in our tears remind us this decision came down in a context of pain and sorrow,” Knox said. “And may it cause us to increase our resolve to seek a permanent solution to this human crisis.”
“We needed this great news!” said Ruben Ortiz, Latino Field Coordinator at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. “The vast majority of DACA beneficiaries not only come from Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean, but many of them are also our brothers and sisters with whom we share in our local churches.”
“DACA recipients contribute to this country every minute of every day. They add value to our nation and do not subtract anything from our American society,” he said. “These young men and women deserve to be treated with dignity. Congress needs to urgently carve out an expeditious path to citizenship for these almost 700,000 DACA beneficiaries.
“Why do we need to subject DACA recipients to the ostracism of illegality? What do we gain as a society by denying rights to human beings who came to our country as children?” Ortiz asked. “We can, and we must, do better, in the name of who we believe in, and for the good of our country. It is time to call our Senators and Representatives again. Let’s do it now!”