Supreme Court rejects Trump’s DACA decision

Island Dreamers cheer decision, but know it’s tenuous.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Trump administration's decision on DACA. - Jack Fruchtman

Updated 3:30 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt the Trump administration another blow this week, this time rejecting President Donald Trump’s order to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA.

In a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s Democratic justices, the nation’s highest court found the Trump administration lacked a sound legal basis for ending the program started by President Barack Obama in 2012. Roberts wrote the bulk of the opinion, and found that the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security violated the Administrative Procedure Act, “and that the rescission must be vacated.” 

While it’s a victory for DACA, the program’s future is not guaranteed.

“The dispute before the Court is not whether DHS may rescind DACA. All parties agree that it may. The dispute is instead primarily about the procedure the agency followed in doing so,” Roberts wrote.

Justice Clarence Thomas, in his dissent, writes that DACA was unlawful: “DHS created DACA during the Obama administration without any statutory authorization and without going through the requisite rulemaking process. As a result, the program was unlawful from its inception.”

Jack Fruchtman, a retired constitutional law professor and a frequent contributor to The Times, said the court’s decision is narrowly focused. 

The court’s decision was extremely narrow, and did not reach the substance of the DACA program. Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion focused only on the procedure by which the Department of Homeland Security went about ending it,” Fruchtman said. “The department — more particularly the acting secretary — failed to provide its reasoning of how the cancellation of DACA would have an impact on the more than 650,000 young people who have relied on it since 2012 to avoid deportation and to attend school or go to work.”

Matheus, a 25-year-old Vineyard resident who asked that his full name not be used out of fear, is relieved by the court’s decision. He came to the Island with his parents from Brazil when he was 6 years old. He went to Oak Bluffs School, graduated from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, and went to UMass Lowell. He now works as a project manager for an HVAC company.

“It’s a relief,” he said of the court’s ruling. “I’ve been pretty worried about that. I had already gotten DACA, so the removal process is ongoing. This year I have to renew, and I was worried whether I would be able to do it.”

Karem Guimarães, 22, of Vineyard Haven had a similar concern. Her DACA status is due to expire in October, and the Island hair stylist, who is typically calm and free of anxiety, was worried that she would not be able to renew her license to work at Maggie’s Salon. “It felt like it was hanging over my head,” she said. “It’s a relief to have that gone.”

Thursday’s ruling is a victory for DACA recipients, but Fruchtman cautioned that the decision doesn’t protect the program.

“This means that the decision is only a stopgap measure, and the Trump administration can overcome the procedural issue and end the program, especially if the president is re-elected in November,” Fruchtman said.

Matheus said his hope is that Trump gets defeated in November, and the next president sees the value in the Dreamers program. “Hopefully, the next president can give us a more long-term solution,” he said.

DACA comes with considerable safeguards that made Trump’s decision so perplexing. DACA recipients could get two-year work permits, but only if they had no felony convictions, posed no threat to national security, and were either enrolled in school or had graduated from high school or gotten a GED. The recipients also had to have entered the country before their 16th birthday, and as of June 15, 2007.

Matheus believes Trump is using DACA as a political pawn; he wants to stop the program in order to force Congress to negotiate for his border wall. Matheus is hopeful that at least through the Nov. 3 election, his status is safe. “Right now, he has his hands full with everything else going on in the world, particularly with the election coming up. If he wins, it’s scary,” he said. “It’s such a complicated and weird time.”

Guimarães said it would hurt Trump politically if he goes after DACA again before the election.

“DACA brings in a lot of money. It’s $1,000 to renew an application,” she said. “We’re not bringing any harm. We go to school, have good jobs. Not all immigrants are bad. Not all white folks are bad. Not all black folks are bad.”

Predictably, Trump took to Twitter to condemn the court’s decision. “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,” he wrote. ” We need more Justices or we will lose our 2nd Amendment & everything else. Vote Trump 2020!”

State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, applauded the court’s ruling. “The young people who came to this country as children with their family are Americans in every way except on a piece of paper,” he said. “They graduated from local schools, served in the military, and started small businesses. We are a stronger country because of them. Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a win for justice, empathy, common decency, and a win for America.”

U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Bourne, also reacted to the decision. “The Trump Administration’s cruel, misguided decision to block path to citizenship for Dreamers who came to our country as children by no choice of their own has been struck down by SCOTUS. This was the only just outcome — an example of our system of checks and balances at its best,” Keating said. “Dreamers are a valuable part of our society. They are first responders, healthcare professionals, teachers — they are our friends and neighbors. Many, if not most, know no other home than this country. And they deserve to be treated [as] what they are — Americans.”

Keating is an original co-sponsor of a bill, H.R. 6, known as the Dream and Promise Act of 2019, which would expand the rights of Dreamers. He vowed to continue to support its passage so that immigrant children can be treated properly and protected. “Offering safety and security for those in need is the American thing to do,” he said.

When Trump made his decision in September 2017, it was a blow to Island families. At that time, MVRHS world language teacher and MV Times Brazilian columnist Juliana Germani described the scene in her classes of students being distraught by President Donald Trump’s decision to end the program that provides sanctuary to children brought to the U.S.

DACA has helped Island children, as demonstrated in a piece written by Germani in 2015. At that time, 10 Brazilian young adults were looking at college opportunities, and working three jobs to help support a family.“My life has definitely changed because of the act,” a young man enrolled in college said at the time. “I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t qualified for it.”

It was President Barack Obama’s 2012 executive order that provided sanctuary to the children of illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. The name Dreamers was coined for those provided with work permits by the U.S. government.

According to the American Immigration Council, there were 5,500 active DACA recipients in Massachusetts as of 2019, and 22,713 children have been granted DACA since 2012. Only 32 percent of the eligible immigrants in Massachusetts applied for DACA, according to the AIC.

Compare that with 2017, when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services statistics showed Massachusetts had 7,934 DACA recipients, and 6,903 DACA workers. Throughout the country, nearly 700,000 people are DACA recipients.

Guimarães came to the U.S. when she was 5. “I didn’t have any say on where I was brought,” she said. She feels fortunate that her parents chose Martha’s Vineyard. “I am blessed and happy to say I’ve been treated well, especially here on this Island,” she said.