Op-Ed: Janet Napolitano: Why I’m suing the Trump administration over DACA

University of California President Janet Napolitano listens during a meeting of the Board of Regents in San Francisco on May 18.
(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

As secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, a little more than five years ago I signed the directive that created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. On Tuesday, President Trump ended DACA on little more than a whim. On Friday, in my capacity as president of the University of California, I filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to prevent the government from stripping DACA recipients of their ability to live, study and work in our country free from fear of deportation.

By definition and practice, DACA recipients were brought to the United States when they were children. They know no other country other than the one we share. They pay taxes. They contribute to our economy — nearly 55% of them have bought cars, 12% have bought homes and 6% have launched businesses that create jobs for U.S. citizens. They seek to serve in our military and better themselves through education. In all ways except one, they are American.

I recognize that it is unusual for a former Cabinet official to sue the agency she once led. It may be even more unusual to challenge as unconstitutional, unjust and unlawful the elimination of a program originally established by the plaintiff — me — in this litigation.


My anger at DACA’s rescission doesn’t stem from pride in the work done to create this program, although I am very proud of the program. Instead it is motivated by the harm that eliminating DACA will cause to the so-called Dreamers at the University of California, the 10-campus system I now lead, and to the nearly 800,000 Dreamers across our country.

As UC president, I’ve seen the exceptional contributions Dreamers are making to the nation. They represent the very best of our country. All DACA recipients have gone through a rigorous application process that verifies they are productive members of our communities and have clean records, including more than 100,000 who have had their applications renewed by the Trump administration.

I’ve seen the exceptional contributions Dreamers are making to the nation. They represent the very best of our country.

Yet the Department of Homeland Security, in rescinding DACA, baselessly claims that the program was unlawful. It offers no rationale based on the merits of DACA itself, but rather on the purported illegality of a separate program with different rules and aimed at different immigrants (the parents of DACA-eligible young people), a program that never went into effect. That justification is flat out wrong. The DACA program was a legal exercise of the department’s prosecutorial discretion and no court has found DACA to be invalid.

In fact, in 2014, the Department of Justice office that reviews the constitutionality of executive branch actions determined that DACA was lawful. Now the Trump administration’s DOJ offers no reasoned analysis for its about-face.


The Administrative Procedure Act prohibits federal agencies from acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner, but that is exactly what Homeland Security has done in its rescission of DACA. It has entirely failed to consider the reliance interest of the Dreamers, such as their expectation that they could study, work and live in the only country they know, or if the program ends, what will happen to the communities and universities where DACA recipients thrive.

Finally, the department’s rescission of DACA tramples on the due process rights of the University of California and its students and employees. DHS cannot take away those rights by executive fiat.

The Trump administration’s action harms DACA recipients from a legal perspective and harms our country from a moral perspective. The government is telling these young people that , as a country, we do not value their obvious worth, and that we intend to treat them no differently than a recent adult border crosser. This is wrong, unjust, mean and legally dubious.

As president of the University of California, it is my job to protect the students on our campuses. As the author of DACA, I know its legal basis and its aims. As both, I am suing the administration because its actions on Tuesday will harm innocent young people and, by extension, all of us.

Janet Napolitano, U.S. secretary of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013, is president of the University of California.

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