Five takeaways from the DACA ruling

What does this decision mean for the nearly 700,000 DACA recipients in America? Political scientist Michael Jones Correa shares five key takeaways from the ruling

crowd of people at a demonstration holding signs, one reads DEFEND DACA
Pre-pandemic image at a DACA rally, 2017.

The Supreme Court ruled last week that the Trump administration could not dismantle an Obama-era program protecting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants known as “dreamers” from deportation. 

The 5-4 decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who was joined by the Court’s four more liberal members.

“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” Roberts wrote. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.”

The program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, shields those brought to the United States as children from deportation and allows them to work. 

What does this decision mean for the nearly 700,000 DACA recipients in America, many of them young professionals or college students? Penn Today asked political scientist Michael Jones Correa for five key takeaways from the ruling.

The decision keeps protections for Dreamers, for now.  

About 700,000 DACA recipients were given a reprieve. These DACA recipients arrived in the U.S. with their parents as children, without papers, and had enrolled in the Obama administration’s DACA program. This program was in effect until it was curtailed by the Trump administration in 2017. But with the administration’s decision challenged in court, many continued under the program’s protections. If the decision to rescind DACA had been upheld by the Court, they would technically have been eligible for deportation this year, even immediately. 

The case was decided on fairly narrow grounds.

The Roberts Court agreed that the administration reached its decision in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner but also noted that there was no contestation that the administration had the authority to rescind DACA. The reasoning is similar to the court’s early decisions on the “Muslim travel ban” cases, which challenged one of the Trump administration’s very first executive orders.   

The Court is saying the Trump administration took the wrong turn. 

Like the travel ban cases, this decision is really just an argument that the administration went about their decision the wrong way, not that they can’t do it and not that they couldn’t try again. Indeed, as in the travel ban cases, the decision lays out a kind of road map, relying more on the attorney general to come to a determination of the program’s legality, etc., for how it might be done.  

The decision removes the Trump administration’s leverage.

What the administration was surely hoping for was for the Court to rescind DACA, allowing the administration to go to Congress and make the argument that no one really “wants” to deport the DACA recipients—including, by the way, sizable majorities of those who voted for Trump—as leverage for a larger package of legislation that would have likely followed the bills introduced to Congress by U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton among others. That legislation would dramatically reduce immigration to the U.S. overall, with shifts away from family-based immigration in particular. The Court’s decision removes the administration’s leverage.   

The Trump administration says it will try again before the November elections

Most administrations, faced with a controversial policy decision that has unpopular outcomes months before a presidential election, would stay away from revisiting the policy. But this administration likes pouring gasoline on fires, instead of letting them burn out. Following the court's decision, President Trump immediately signaled he would press forward once again to try and roll back DACA—which, just to emphasize, is a very popular program among all voters, except Republicans. Even among Republicans there is a majority that doesn’t want to see DACA recipients actually deported. In the end, it appears that immigration is just too central to the Trump administration’s core identity to let the court's decision slide, and Trump cannot turn away, even if his course of action may well carry negative consequences for him electorally.