WASHINGTON ― In a major setback for the Trump administration, the Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a lawsuit over the future of an Obama-era program that protects so-called Dreamers from deportation.
The decision all but ensures that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will remain in effect for recipients after the March 5 deadline originally set by the White House. It also takes some of the pressure off Congress to act to pass its own legislation to protect young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, something lawmakers have repeatedly failed to do.
President Donald Trump rescinded DACA in September, putting its nearly 700,000 recipients at risk of losing two-year deportation relief and work permits. He said he wanted to put in place permanent protections for Dreamers, but demanded major policy changes on legal immigration, asylum seekers and border security that senators rejected earlier this month.
The Trump administration has the power to end DACA, which President Barack Obama had implemented through executive action. But a spate of lawsuits in California and New York have argued that the White House flouted procedures required by federal law and violated the equal protection rights of DACA recipients.
Several lawsuits filed in the Northern District of California were consolidated into one and resulted in the first nationwide, preliminary injunction barring the Trump administration from ending the DACA program while the lawsuit proceeds. The order, issued in January, requires U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to keep processing DACA renewals for people who have been approved for the program in the past, but doesn’t require them to process first-time applications.
The Trump administration appealed the injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, but also took the unusual step of asking the Supreme Court to immediately consider the lawsuit rather than waiting for the appeals court to rule first.
White House spokesman Raj Shah responded to the Supreme Court’s decision Monday by criticizing the California judge who issued the injunction reopening the DACA program. He said the administration “fully expect[s] to prevail” in the end, and said the program “is clearly unlawful.”
“The district judge’s decision to unilaterally re-impose a program that Congress had explicitly and repeatedly rejected is a usurpation of legislative authority,” Shah said in a statement. “The fact that this occurs at a time when elected representatives in Congress are actively debating this policy only underscores that the district judge has unwisely intervened in the legislative process.”
The Supreme Court’s decision Monday concerned the California lawsuit. A separate judge issued a nationwide injunction earlier this month based on another lawsuit, this one heard in a federal court in Brooklyn, New York.
Congress has thus far been unable or unwilling to pass legislation to help Dreamers, though lawmakers in both parties claim they want to fix the issue. The Senate voted down multiple proposals this month, with Trump’s plan garnering the least support of all.
The House hasn’t taken up any legislation. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has repeatedly said he will bring up a bill the president would sign ― signaling that he might not allow votes on measures that lack Trump’s explicit endorsement.
Ryan told reporters earlier this month that the March 5 deadline was “not as important as it was before, given the court rulings.” However, he said, “I think this place works better with deadlines, and we want to operate on deadlines.”
While DACA remains in effect for people already approved for the program, it isn’t open for new applicants, including Dreamers who would otherwise be aging into the program. Some current recipients are also likely to temporarily lose their work authorization and deportation relief as they await approval of their renewal applications, which typically takes months.