Supreme Court leaves in place rulings that temporarily protect ‘Dreamers’

Supporters of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program march near the Capitol in Washington last year.
(Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images)

The Supreme Court took no action Tuesday in a case about whether President Trump properly ended an Obama-era program that offered special protections for more than 700,000 immigrants brought to this country illegally as children.

The court’s apparent refusal to intervene this term leaves in place lower court rulings that temporarily prevent Trump from ending the program that helps so-called Dreamers.

It may also complicate ongoing talks to end the government shutdown because it reduces the leverage of President Trump, who over the weekend offered to extend temporary protections for Dreamers in return for taxpayer money for a border wall with Mexico. Democrats were already rejecting that deal, and the court’s decision to leave in place protections for Dreamers will only bolster that position.


Since 2012, these young people have been shielded from deportation and permitted to work based on a temporary policy adopted by President Obama. The policy was known as DACA, for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Upon taking office, Trump said that he would not “really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military.” But then he terminated the program last year and attempted unsuccessfully to leverage Dreamers’ plight to win concessions from Democrats for new restrictions on legal immigration.

Trump and his lawyers insist he has the legal authority to repeal Obama’s DACA policy, and no judge can stand in the way.

However, several lawsuits were filed in California, including by state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra and the University of California, and a federal judge in San Francisco issued a nationwide order putting the Trump administration’s repeal plan on hold.

In November, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the nationwide injunction. The judges, in a 3-0 ruling, noted one oddity of the dispute. It was agreed that the new administration could change a regulatory policy so long as it offered a good reason for doing so. But former Trump Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions insisted Obama’s order was unconstitutional, and the judges said he was wrong about that. They said Obama had the legal authority to suspend deportation for law-abiding immigrants who had done nothing wrong.

Three years ago, the Supreme Court was evenly divided on a second and larger Obama order that would have shielded about 4 million parents who were in the country illegally but had children who were permitted to be in the United States. Until Sessions became attorney general, however, no one had challenged the earlier DACA policy as unconstitutional.


In defense of Trump, Solicitor Gen. Noel Francisco has argued that judges in California are wrongly interfering with the president’s authority to establish immigration policy. He spent much of last year trying to get the dispute before the high court. Two weeks ago, in the aftermath of the 9th Circuit’s decision, he urged the court to throw out the judges’ orders that “command the government to preserve a policy that affirmatively sanctions the ongoing violation of federal law by 700,000 aliens who have no lawful immigration status and no right to the policy’s continuation.”

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